ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- **Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio's squad hasn't played with a full available roster very often this season – but what he's really looking for is a full 60-minute performance from his defense.
As a result of a combination of injuries and other circumstances, Del Rio's defense has yet to take the field with its entire cast of starters this season – with injuries to defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and safety Rahim Moore, along with the loss of defensive end Derek Wolfe due to illness, among the most recent setbacks to the defensive lineup.
But despite the absences – which during the course of the season have also included linebacker Von Miller, cornerback Champ Bailey and linebacker Wesley Woodyard, among others – Del Rio noted during his Thursday press conference that his defense has been able to play at a high level for spurts of games.
Now he's looking for a complete showing.
"Yeah, we've been OK. I think we've played well in spurts," Del Rio said. "I really don't feel like we put together a complete game yet for whatever reason. We're aware of the need to play better. I do feel confident that we can play our best football as we go down this stretch here and into the playoffs and that's really what's most important."
The defense should receive a boost in the secondary this week, as Rodgers-Cromartie practiced at a full-participation level on Thursday. The cornerback leads the team with 14 passes defensed and has also recorded 29 tackles and a pair of interceptions this season.
"Yeah it's good to have him back. He's a good player," Del Rio said. "He's a gifted cover guy and certainly having him back helps."
The Broncos were without both Vickerson and Wolfe for the first time in Denver's 35-28 win at Kansas City on Sunday – and although the Broncos ceded 157 rushing yards to the Chiefs, Del Rio graded his defensive line's performance as "solid." And while Del Rio acknowledged that Vickerson's presence will be missed for the remainder of the season – the defensive tackle was placed on injured reserve last week – he also pointed out that he believes the Broncos have the components to move forward in his absence.
"OK – solid," Del Rio said. "(They) certainly (are) two of our better guys. We will miss them until Derek is back. We'll miss Vick. He's a good player, but there were some runs that were problematic last week that weren't necessarily a problem of the defensive line. We've got to do things well as a defense and I think the guys we have can do their part."
Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton agreed that playing without Vickerson and Wolfe for the first time wasn't easy, but he, too, noted that the Broncos are equipped to play without them.
"It was tough," Knighton said. "I mean, we've got guys that can fill in and play. Just their presence alone, not being there, bothered me – but in this business, a lot of things happen. Crazy stuff happens, guys get injured every day so you've got to be prepared for everything."
Knighton added that he didn't expect his own workload to increase in Vickerson's absence – noting that the eight-year pro's experience will be what is missed most on the field.
"I didn't try to do anything extra or do too much with the absence of them," he said. "(Defensive end) Malik (Jackson) stepped in and played well. (Defensive tackle) Mitch (Unrein) is playing a lot of football and (defensive tackle Sylvester Williams) is a first-rounder so he is expected to play at a high level. I think the only drop-off is the leadership and experience."
Compensating for that, Knighton noted, will mean continuing to build chemistry with Jackson, Unrein and Williams in the interior of the line. "We've just got to keep repping it, keep repping it so it becomes second-nature like me and Vick had it to the point where I could just look at him and things would get going," he said. "We'll get going, it's going to take time, though."
Ultimately, overcoming those absences means pulling together as an entire unit – and that's precisely what Del Rio will look for as the Broncos enter the final stretch of their 2013 regular season campaign.
"(It's been) just a matter of production – matter of playing well," Del Rio said. "It's a matter of playing well and being consistent. Like I said, we've done it in spurts we just haven't done it as regularly as I'd like to see."