Extra Points: Trevathan now headliner on Broncos' defense

11:43 AM, Jan 22, 2014   |    comments
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(SportsNetwork.com) - Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning pilots the best offense in the history of the NFL, while Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman spearheads the NFL's No. 1 defense.

That irresistible force getting ready to go against the proverbial immovable object certainly figures to get most of the attention leading up to Super Bowl XLVIII as the AFC champion Broncos take on the NFC kingpin Seahawks on Feb. 2 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

After all, it's the first time since 1991's big game in which the team that scored the most points in the NFL's regular season will do battle with the club that allowed the fewest.

Sometimes the obvious story line isn't the most important, however, and it's conceivable this year's Super Bowl will be decided by the more unheralded units in the game, the Denver defense and its counterparts on the Seattle offense.

A Broncos "D" with the star power of Von Miller for all 16 games and an in-his- prime Champ Bailey would still have likely been overshadowed by Manning and Co. this season. The current group might not even get noticed in New York after allowing 356 yards per game (19th in the NFL) and 24.9 points per game (22nd).

On paper, the unit's strength is stopping the run (101.6 ypg, seventh), but it's been susceptible to giving up big plays through the air, allowing 254.4 yards per game (27th).

Miller, Denver's best defensive player, was suspended for the first six games and then went down with a torn ACL late in the regular season, and the Broncos suffered another big blow against the San Diego Chargers in the divisional round when starting cornerback Chris Harris suffered a torn ACL of his own.

Meanwhile, defensive end Derek Wolfe, who has not played since Nov. 24 due to the seizure-like symptoms he experienced before a Week 13 matchup at Kansas City, also was placed on IR during the postseason, and Bailey is in the death throes of his Hall of Fame career, a player forced back into the starting lineup by Harris' injury, along with the ineffectiveness of fellow veteran Quentin Jammer.

There are positives, though. Veteran rusher Shaun Phillips has been a godsend off the edge, defensive tackle Terrance Knighton has been an impact player on the interior, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has lived up to his reputation as an elite cover corner at times.

The real difference maker, though, is weakside linebacker Danny Trevathan, the Broncos' leading tackler and a player on the verge of joining Miller in the "elite" category.

Despite missing so many key cogs, Jack Del Rio's defense has upped its play in the postseason, giving up just 259 total yards and 17 points to the Chargers before allowing 320 yards and 16 points to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.

"We've just been trying to play our kind of ball," Trevathan said when asked about his unit's play in the postseason. "We wanted to stay within our scheme. A lot of injuries occurred. A lot of young guys stepped up and played a key role in this. And the leaders did a good job getting them ready to get ready for this.

"We start off pretty slow, but we kind of find our swag. Guys have that attitude. What happened in the regular season happened then. This is the postseason. This is where people make their names."

Originally a sixth-round draft pick out of the University of Kentucky in 2012, Trevathan is making his name thanks to a chip-on-his-shoulder mentality shared by a lot of late-round selections.

"Yeah. I mean, I think it's a chip," he said. "But you've got to be well- rounded. You've got to be a pro, handle that stuff as a challenge, take it upon yourself to go out there and perform and show them what's up."

Trevathan was as productive as it gets in college football's toughest landscape, leading the Southeastern Conference in tackles with 144 and being named first-team all-conference in 2010. A year later, he was excelling again but passed over when the 12 semifinalists for the Dick Butkus Award, given annually to the nation's top linebacker, were named.

"It crushed me, to be honest, but it kind of made me get into the groove of things, grind it out a little more and push a little bit harder," Trevathan said. "It made me want to prove to the world, prove to everybody, that I did deserve to be on (the list)."

The knock on Trevathan at Kentucky was his size. At just a shade over 6 feet, he hardly comes across as the prototypical thumper inside. What he does have, though, is athleticism and the ability to make plays from sideline to sideline.

"It's a blessing to be a part of this organization," Trevathan said. "These guys took me under their wings. I kind of snuck through (the draft) and they took a chance with me. I made it my dedication to give them my all, get them everything that I worked for."

At times this season, Trevathan has played as well as any linebacker in the NFL with consistency likely serving as the final hurdle before Pro Bowl or All-Pro recognition.

"He's a terrific young player," Denver coach John Fox said. "He has worked very hard. It means a lot to him. He, like all young players, every day they're learning more and more about what it means to be a pro. He's had a terrific year. I thought he did really well as a rookie and I think he's definitely grown up and played very well."

The Florida native has already made the so-called splash plays like when he picked off Dallas' Tony Romo to seal a wild win in Dallas. That said, Trevathan also can lose focus at times, evidenced when he was about to go in for a pick-six against Joe Flacco and Baltimore in the season opener before dropping the football short of the goal line.

"You're going to get knocked down," Fox said about Trevathan's occasional mental mistakes. "Sometimes setbacks are setups for bigger things to come. I think in his case, it was a learning experience."

"Life is a game," Trevathan added. "It's ups and downs, highs and lows. But, you know, I like my lows and I like my highs because without my lows, I never know what my highs are.

"It was a rough, roller-coaster year, but we pulled it together. I've got a strong faith in God and I've got a strong faith within my team. We're here now and we've just got to get this one more win. That is what I'm dedicating this whole week to."

That and stopping Marshawn Lynch, the Seahawks' bruising running back who can quickly turn arm tackles into turnstiles.

"If they get the running game going, they can really get going," Trevathan said when discussing the Seahawks. "They play within their scheme. They play with the people that they have. They use them to their strengths. We've got to be prepared for this. This is a powerhouse. They can get going anytime. We've got to prepare for everything. It's going to be a good Super Bowl."

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