ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The flexibility of the Broncos' defensive line will help them cope with the absence of Kevin Vickerson. But the veteran's hip injury does force a few changes.
The first is a lineup question -- who starts alongside Terrance Knighton? The duo has started every game this year, but with Vickerson injured Sunday, Sylvester Williams saw the biggest bump in workload. Williams had never played more than 25.7 percent of the snaps in any game this year, but was in for 41 percent of the plays Sunday.
Williams has also improved in the pass rush the last few weeks; he hit Alex Smith once in Week 11 and pressured Tom Brady once Sunday. Mitch Unrein could also see more playing time, but the Broncos might use Vickerson's injury as a chance to see if the first-round pick can channel his potential with the extra work.
Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson often play inside, particularly in pass-rush situations, and this will continue. But one or both could see more work inside on the downs that Vickerson previously played, not only in his place, but also in relief of Terrance Knighton, if his workload increases a bit to compensate for Vickerson's loss. Wolfe and Jackson work best with a little space to operate, and although putting one of them in for Vickerson represents a loss of size, their quickness can compensate.
Vickerson had played some of his best football in recent weeks, particularly in the pass rush, and had overcome the spate of penalties that defined his play in October, when he was flagged seven times in four games, three of which were accepted for 44 yards in penalties. He was also consistently stout against the run, and was strong enough to free up Knighton to be a more disruptive force.
The impact on Knighton could be the most telling immediate impact. Whoever fills in for Vickerson needs to be able to draw enough attention to keep opponents from prioritizing Knighton. Further, it reduces the Broncos' margin for injuries. They can likely get by without Vickerson, but another injury to their defensive tackles could have a profound effect.
Denver added Sione Fua, a third-round pick of the Panthers in 2011, to take Vickerson's spot on the roster. Fua was released by Carolina earlier this month after being moved from defensive tackle to offensive lineman, but will return to his old spot in Denver. Fua has started 12 games in his career -- 11 as a rookie -- and in the short term, projects as a rotational backup.