ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) – Take less money, gain more weight.
Defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson heard each of those messages from the Denver Broncos in the offseason and complied with both.
The result has been one of the strongest seasons in his seven-year NFL career – and at a bargain to boot.
Playing at 330 pounds, about 40 pounds more than what he weighed in at last year, Vickerson has been occupying two offensive linemen at a time for much of the time, freeing up Denver’s linebackers to make plays.
“I want to eat up blockers, let the backers run free and fast,” Vickerson said. “If I can take two – center-guard, guard-tackle, center-tackle – however it works, then that’s good. Just take up two guys and let the linebackers eat.”
Speaking of eating – when Jack Del Rio took over as Denver’s defensive coordinator in the offseason, he quickly saw that Vickerson couldn’t be the big line clogger he was looking for if he played at 290 pounds, the way he did in 2011. Del Rio asked him to put some meat back on and return to the size he was when he was at his peak with the Titans in 2009 and the Broncos in 2010.
“Not just go out and eat a bunch of pizza and pack on a bunch of fat,” Del Rio said. “It was good weight, muscle weight that he added, so it’s been good for us.”
Vickerson also agreed to essentially getting his salary cut in half, from about $2.2 million to $1.2 million, as the Broncos tried to clear some cap room and save money on a player who missed the final 11 games last season with an injured ankle. Denver also was making room for the free agent signing of Justin Bannan, who lines up beside Vickerson and plays much the same role.
And while neither the salary nor Vickerson’s numbers – 32 tackles, two sacks, three tackles for loss – are astronomical, sometimes with interior defensive linemen, the numbers don’t tell the whole story.
“He just makes things a lot easier on us,” said linebacker Wesley Woodyard, who leads the Broncos with 94 tackles. “It’s real good when you don’t have to worry about linemen coming up to the next level. You’ve got a guy like Kevin up there who demands a double team. He’s doing a great job demanding that. When the linebackers are flowing toward the ball, it almost always points back toward the defensive line.”
With Vickerson anchoring the line, the Broncos defense is ranked ninth against the run and fourth overall. On Sunday, it gets a good test against Tampa Bay and rookie running back Doug Martin. Denver had a setback last week when Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles went for 107 yards.
“Vickerson, he’s a big anchor guy,” said defensive end Elvis Dumervil. “He reads screens and draws, he’s a guy who can redirect. One thing we like to talk about is getting big guys to the ball. When big guys get to the ball, a lot of good things happen.”
But Vickerson doesn’t ever want to get too big.
During the spring and summer of 2011, when the NFL lockout was on and team facilities were closed for offseason workouts, Vickerson redoubled his efforts and tried to lose the weight.
“I know how my body goes if I don’t work out,” he said. “So, in the meantime, I might have worked out too much. I was just working and it was just falling off.”
Del Rio told him to put it back on. The coach said he didn’t worry about Vickerson going overboard.
“The guys you worry about are the guys you’re asking to get down, the guys who are too big,” Del Rio said. “This way, you’re coming at it from a different angle.”
Notes: LB Von Miller was named AFC Defensive Player of the Month, the first Bronco to receive that honor since CB Champ Bailey in October 2006. … Bailey will get yet another look at Bucs WR Vincent Jackson this week, a former Charger. “I remember at the Pro Bowl last year, I told him to get out of our division. And he did, thank God. But here we go again,” Bailey said. … DE Robert Ayers missed practice again to be with his family after the sudden death of his dad last weekend. The funeral is Saturday and coach John Fox said he wasn’t sure if Ayers would be back in time for Sunday’s game. … Fox on the city of Denver’s preliminary efforts to land a Super Bowl in 2018, `19 or `20: “We’ve got, if not the nicest, one of the nicest stadiums in the league. Denver’s a great town. It’s got great fans. There’d be great enthusiasm, I know, if we were fortunate to get it.” … Del Rio’s son, Luke, is a quarterback for Valor Christian High, which is playing for the state championship Saturday. The defensive coordinator says he certainly talks football with his son, who is being recruited by Oklahoma State and Oregon State, but “from my standpoint, as a dad, I’m more concerned with the character he shows, the way he competes every play – things like that are more important to me than what the end result is.”
– By Eddie Pells, AP National Writer
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