After testing out his knee at full speed in last week's mini-camp, LB Ian Gold expects to be ready for training camp and the regular season
Sports Illustrated called it 'a crippling loss.' And, indeed, the 5-1 Denver Broncos went 5-6 (including a first-round playoff exit) after linebacker Ian Gold was felled by a torn knee ligament last October.
For sure, other factors contributed to the Broncos' lukewarm finish in 2003, but Gold's injury was a difficult one for the team to swallow. Head Coach Mike Shanahan, in fact, said it was 'really tough.'
Most teams suffer the unexpected absence of a player or two over the course of a season – see Alstott, Mike and Kelly, Brian for your Tampa Bay Buccaneers last year – but some losses are harder to overcome than others, both physically and mentally. In the case of Gold and the Broncos, it seemed as if the linebacker's teammates would miss his emotional presence as much as his tackling skills.
"It's always tough when you lose somebody who plays hard and leaves everything on the line," said Denver defensive end Trevor Pryce, a player who fits the same description.
Who knows what would have happened for the Broncos had Gold avoided his injury, a mishap that occurred, incidentally, while he was covering a punt (Gold was a Pro Bowl special teamer before he became a star in the Denver defense). And who knows where Gold would have landed in 2004 had he played out a healthy 2003. Perhaps he and the Broncos would have found a way to work out a new deal before Gold hit free agency.
But the injury did occur, and that 'really tough' loss for the Broncos in 2003 is the Buccaneers' gain. At least that's what Gold is determined to prove this summer. Tampa Bay coaches haven't published any depth chart as of yet, and the team has several other options to join Derrick Brooks and Shelton Quarles in the starting linebacker trio, including 2003 starter Ryan Nece and returning favorite Jeff Gooch. Most believe, however, that the ultra-speedy Gold would complete a fast and formidable group in the middle of the Bucs' defense.
"I'm going to go out there and give it my all and give it my best effort," said Gold near the end of the Bucs' recent mini-camp. "So it's not an issue for me. I'm not really concerned about whether I start or I don't because I know if I give it my best effort and put my best effort forward I will be the starter on the first unit."
The three-day, five-practice mini-camp proved encouraging in many ways for the soon-to-be camp-bound Buccaneers, a team that is desperate to put a 7-9 season behind it. Some of the heartening sights were expected: Joey Galloway getting deep; Michael Clayton making a good first impression; Kelly and Alstott looking hale and hearty. Gold, however, was supposed to be a side note, spending one last week on the sideline before getting full clearance for camp. Instead, Gold made an early return in his continuing knee rehab, and Head Coach Jon Gruden called his presence on the field 'energizing.'
The 6-0, 225-pound Gold is one of the league's fastest linebackers (as are Brooks and Quarles), and he was described as 'smashmouth' by SI's Peter King. That's a powerful combination. But he's aware that his teammates have valued him more for his heart in the past, and he thinks he can make the same impact in Tampa.
"Yes, most definitely," said Gold. "But this is a great defense. They have a lot of great ingredients already. I'm just trying to come in and help in any way I can. You have your Derrick Brooks, you have your Simeon Rice, you have your Ronde Barber and your Shelton Quarles. They have some great leaders on this defense and I'm just trying to come in and fit the mold."
Good choice of words. Gold appears to be a perfect fit as the type of linebacker the team usually covets. For instance, the specs on the linebacker the Bucs took in the third round of this year's draft, Marquise Cooper: 6-3, 213 and fast. In fact, it's not even a problem that Gold played weakside linebacker for the Broncos and the Bucs already have a fairly decent player in that spot: seven-time Pro Bowler Brooks.
You see, weakside in Denver equals strongside in Tampa. Allow Gold a moment to explain:
"It's pretty much the same position I played in Denver, but what they call weakside here is actually strongside. And if you notice Derrick Brooks always goes to the strength of the offense which would be the tight end. And I go to the open-end side. In Denver we called the weakside linebacker the linebacker who went to the open-end side and the strongside linebacker who went to the tight end side. So it's just a difference in terminology and that's pretty much the biggest difference is in getting the terminology down and learning how to line up in going to the weakside and thinking it's strong."
Gold didn't have to get every formation or play call right last week to please the Bucs. Just getting into the flow of the defense and playing at full speed, five weeks before training camp, was an unexpected pleasure. Gold isn't completely recovered from his injury yet, but he should be when it counts. He and the team feel better about that after his mini-camp appearance.
"It held up pretty well and as far as I can tell I'll definitely be ready for training camp and I'll definitely be ready for the season," said Gold. "It's a little sore right now but you have to expect that. Just work through that and keep working hard."