ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Denver Broncos defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson is certainly comfortable in his football skin and has never had any difficulty working through his job description in the team’s defense.
“Just be kind of that run guy in there, be physical, take on people, get to the ball,’’ Vickerson said. “And if I get a chance to get to the quarterback, get there, you know?’’
Now, and in the weeks to come, somebody else is going to have to do that job since Vickerson suffered a dislocated right hip as the third quarter drew to a close in Sunday night’s overtime loss to the New England Patriots. Vickerson got tangled up in the pile on a 2-yard run by the Patriots’ Shane Vereen with 23 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
He limped off the field without much help from the team’s trainers, but an MRI Monday revealed the damage. Vickerson will miss at least six weeks and the Broncos now face a decision about whether to carry him with a roster spot or to put him on injured reserve with just five games remaining in the regular season. The Broncos are leaning toward putting Vickerson on injured reserve and adding a defensive tackle to the roster, but were working through the decision Tuesday.
If they moved Vickerson to injured reserve, that would end the veteran's season as they’ve already used their one available spot on injured reserve for a player they can designate to return in safety Rahim Moore. Moore had surgery on his lower left leg last week.
The Broncos rotate plenty in the defensive front, based on a variety of down-and-distance situations, but Vickerson has been an early-down stalwart in their base defense as well as a nickel package they use often on first or second downs.
Vickerson has played between 29 and 42 snaps on defense in every game this season and overall has been in for 48.4 percent of the defensive plays this season, usually alongside Terrance Knighton in most situations. After Vickerson left Sunday’s game, the Broncos looked to Mitch Unrein and rookie Sylvester Williams to fill the gaps. The Broncos know what they get from Unrein, who they have groomed from a practice squad spot with the team early in his career. But Williams will have to lift his game some.
"Everybody knows, if you're in there, you have to play at the level we need,'' Knighton said. "Where we are in the season, what we want to get accomplished, these are big games, big snaps. We all are going to have to get the job done.''
The Broncos had high hopes in training camp that Williams would be an immediate part of the rotation up front, especially in some pass-rush situations, but that hasn’t materialized. He has struggled at times to hold his ground and not surrender a gap against the bigger, stronger, often quicker guards he has faced at the NFL level.
The Broncos like his progress and he has shown improvement, especially in his hand placement when he engages the blocker, but has been a game-day inactive three times this season, twice in the past four games. But a Broncos run defense that will face Jamaal Charles and Chris Johnson in the next two games needs Williams to show that improvement now. The Broncos had used Williams more against New England on Sunday night than they had previously this season, even before Vickerson’s injury.
Williams finished with 36 snaps on defense behind Vickerson’s 38 and Knighton’s 52 among the defensive tackles. It was the first time this season Williams had played more than 19 plays on defense.