The pass-rushing proficiency of
But Ware and Miller, who comes down from linebacker in pass-rush situations to work as a hand-in-the-dirt end, are just the beginning.
If the unit is healthy, at least one of the inside/outside duo of
"There’s a lot of competition for those two inside spots," said Jackson, "but the best men will be there and the best four will be on the field, so you really just kind of go out there and do your thing on the field and everything else will sort itself out.”
The liberal rotation ensures that Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio has roles for more than the best four, so the second team will see plenty of work, depending on the situation. If the Broncos maintain good health into the regular season, then their backups will be of a first-team quality.
Look no further than the end of last season, when the Broncos were without Wolfe and Vickerson; Jackson and Williams grew into their roles. For Vickerson and Wolfe, their starting jobs will have to be earned -- and not because of anything they did wrong in coming back from injuries, but because their understudies delivered.
Williams, in particular, has a first-round pedigree, and at times late in his rookie season, played like a Pro Bowl veteran.
"Sly (Sylvester Williams) has come back in good shape. I think him and Terrance, they have a real good relationship," Del Rio said. "I think it grew at the end of last year and I think they’ve tried to kind of pick up where they left off as they finished the year."
That Wolfe, Vickerson and others are prepared to stake their claims to playing time reveals the above-average depth of the line, and gives Del Rio myriad options to keep everyone fresh -- and attack with as much vigor in the fourth quarter as the first.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: THE BASICS
DeMarcus Ware: Although Ware is a newcomer, leadership is expected from him. In nine seasons with the Cowboys, Ware became not only one of the league's most feared pass rushers, but one of its most deeply-respected players. Among his tasks: to free Miller for more one-on-one runs at the quarterback, and to provide mentorship to the young pass rusher.
Terrance Knighton: If Ware is the new leader, Knighton is the incumbent. He stepped into that role late last year, and his willingness to spend time helping Williams study film and the playbook paid handsome dividends by the AFC Championship Game, when the Broncos controlled the Patriots' interior offensive line.
Malik Jackson: He finished second on the Broncos last year with six sacks, but that doesn't reflect his overall work against the pass, which focused on pressure and forcing the quarterback out of his comfort zone between the tackles.
Derek Wolfe: That he played through what turned out to be a significant spine injury reveals plenty about his fortitude. That he has been able to put much of his lost weight back onto his frame shows his diligence in the weight room. The task now is performance.
Sylvester Williams: His growth on the field last year found its roots in the film room, where he and Knighton studied opponents' play -- and each other's. Their skill sets also complement each other; Williams' pass-rushing burst meshes well with Knighton's ability to draw double-teams.
Kevin Vickerson: Sometimes Vickerson's dance along the edge of infractions crosses the line, as it did with three unsportsmanlike conduct penalties (one declined) in a two-game span of midseason. But he brings a raw intensity that is a bit unusual, even for an NFL defensive tackle, and whether he earns back his starting role or not, his bubbling cauldron of emotion can make the defensive line better.