ENGLEWOOD, Colo. –For Malik Jackson, the world spins a few revolutions more slowly today than it did at this time a year ago.
Maybe more than just a few.
A year after experiencing a rookie whirlwind in his initial training camp, the Broncos' second-year defensive end noted that he's trying to loosen up on the field, allowing him to hone in on details and better understand his individual role on the defense.
"Last year, you come in and you don't know anything. And it goes fast, you're just shocked by everything," Jackson said after Monday's practice. "This year, I just really want to calm down, go out there and do my assignment, play-in and play-out. Slow everything down and not take it so seriously -- just play football."
Despite the rigidness, Jackson – who the Broncos selected out of Tennessee in the fifth round of the 2012 NFL draft – navigated the razor-sharp learning curve, tying for the team lead with two preseason sacks and ultimately making the 53-man roster.
Jackson eventually found his way onto the field for the Broncos in 2012, appearing in 14 games and making five tackles.
But with the offseason departure of Elvis Dumervil, a heightened need for playmakers on the defensive line has opened opportunities for a core of young Broncos to step up -- with the critical prerequisite of getting into the backfield regularly and disrupting plays.
For Jackson, that means taking significant strides from raw rookie to valuable contributor.
And it's also meant shifting his focus towards becoming versatile enough to match the play of teammates like Derek Wolfe, helping to strengthen the rotation on the Denver defensive line.
"It's just really showing these coaches that I can be what they want me to be, be that guy who can step in if (Derek) Wolfe goes down and act as if nothing happened," Jackson said. "Just keep the ball rolling, be consistent, and show them that I can be that guy."
At 6-foot-5, 293 pounds, Jackson embodies the same type of size that Wolfe has exerted on opponents in becoming an impact player on the line.
It's the type of size that enabled Jackson to rotate between defensive end and defensive tackle in college at Tennessee, where he was a first-team All-Southeastern Conference performer, logging 136 tackles, 13 sacks and four forced fumbles in his collegiate career.
But for Jackson, developing consistency and being more conscious of individual assignments are the most important steps for taking his game to the next level – lessons that Jackson soaked up during his first season.
"Really, you learn that it's crucial to be consistent," Jackson said. "Everyone's counting on you to do your job, so you've got to go out there and be in your spot when you need to be there. That's pretty much what I learned. You're accountable."
Now, with an extra year under his NFL belt, he will look to pitch in on a defensive line that – despite the loss of Dumervil – Jackson believes is loaded with playmakers capable of turning up the heat on opposing quarterbacks.
"Even though we lost Elvis, which was a big deal to us, we've still got guys who can step up," Jackson said. "We've got Robert Ayers, Derek Wolfe, Shaun Phillips, and Von (Miller), of course. We've got a lot of capable guys who can go in there and rush the passer just as well as Elvis did."
"I think we're looking really good."