The Denver Broncos locker room was filled with more banter and bellows than usual Monday. Their early bye is over and Danny Trevathan is back.
The team's leading tackler last season, Trevathan missed the first three games after fracturing his left leg just below his knee during an Aug. 12 practice at training camp.
He's expected to make his 2014 debut Sunday when the Broncos (2-1) host the Arizona Cardinals (3-0).
"Man, we're so happy to have him back," linebacker Nate Irving said, raising his voice and enunciating each word so that Trevathan could hear his high praise two lockers away. "He's the heartbeat of the defense, baby!"
Trevathan glanced at Irving and shook his head.
"But it feels good to see him out here running around," Irving continued. "It's pretty good to know that he's healthy and everything. Getting that extra guy back out there is pretty good for us. It. Boosts. The. Team. Morale."
When Trevathan spun around, he was surrounded by a phalanx of cameras and teasing teammates.
"Give me a shout-out, Danny!" implored defensive lineman Malik Jackson from behind the scrum.
Trevathan had other ideas.
He slithered past the hoard, saying he had somewhere else to be.
Fierce between the sidelines but shy in public, he'll make his statements on the football field, just like he did in 2013.
The third-year pro out of Kentucky is coming off a breakout season in which he led the Broncos with 124 tackles and intercepted three passes before collecting a team-best two dozen tackles in the playoffs.
If all continues to go well this week, Trevathan will return to his starting spot on the weak side next to Irving and opposite strong side linebacker Von Miller against the undefeated Cardinals.
Brandon Marshall, who collected a team-high 29 tackles in his absence, will return to playing alongside Trevathan in nickel situations or spelling him in the base defense whenever Trevathan needs a breather.
"I thought Brandon Marshall stepped in and did a real good job," coach John Fox said. "We've got some youth at that position, there were errors made, but all in all, just like our record, I think, two of the situations better than the third. We'll welcome back Danny because he was one of our better players and it's good to have him back."
Denver's defense saved the day with game-clinching last-minute plays against Indianapolis and Kansas City but couldn't stop Russell Wilson's 80-yard TD drive in overtime two weekends ago.
With Trevathan's return to health, the Broncos have the defense that had coordinator Jack Del Rio so excited this summer, one that boosts star power in Miller, Chris Harris Jr., Aqib Talib, DeMarcus Ware, Rahim Moore and Terrance Knighton.
"It's a huge deal," Knighton said. "I told him that today. I'm happy to have him back. He brings a lot more attitude to the defense. It's not that B-Marsh didn't, it's just Danny's more of a feisty guy. It will be good to have him back. It's good that Brandon got that experience while Danny was hurt. So, it'll allow our linebackers to rotate and have guys that they can trust go in and play."
Marshall said he feels like he not only held things together during Trevathan's absence but showed the Broncos they can count on him to play a bigger role.
"I thought I surprised a lot of people," Marshall said. "I surprised coaches, fans, my teammates, I thought. I'm not really sure if I had the full support of everybody, but I think going forward, I will — either as a backup player, or if I come in on nickel packages. So I thought I did well. I think I showed enough to get the support of everybody."
Notes: LB Lerentee McCray (knee) and S David Bruton (ankle) sat out of practice.
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