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Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson: Better together


ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- **Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson arrived in the same draft class, possess similar skill sets and found their niche in the same role: rotating between defensive end and tackle based on the down, distance and personnel grouping.

They fight for the same snaps. They push each other in practice. And more often this year, they work together. The result of their labor is perhaps the most athletic and quickest front-four sub package in the game today: Wolfe and Jackson on the inside, with Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware on the outside.

Wolfe and Jackson stunt, twist and draw double-teams. On the Broncos' last four sacks, Jackson attracted one double-team and Wolfe drew three. The calculus is simple: if one attracts two blockers, the others -- including Miller and Ware -- get one-on-ones.

"You can only double so many guys," Jackson said. "If you're not going to double D-Ware or Von, you have to pick your poison with me and Wolfe."

"You have to double-team those guys," added Miller. "If you single one of those guys then they are going to get home. It allows us to be singled on the outside.

"On every play, somebody is going to get singled and whoever it is you just have to take advantage of that matchup."

Few are better at that than Miller or Ware, who have nine and seven sacks, respectively, through seven games. Six and a half of Miller's nine sacks came when Jackson and Wolfe lined up near him.

"Just having the types of skill sets and a guy that can be one-on-two or two-on-one, it doesn't matter," said Ware. "It's usually me and Malik and Wolfe and Von out there, and that's hard to stop."

Over the entire season, the Broncos rank 11th in sack rate, felling opposing quarterbacks once every 13.78 pass plays. (The league average is one sack per 16.86 pass plays.)

But when Jackson and Wolfe are on the field at the same time, the sack rate spikes to one every 6.5 pass plays. The Broncos have more sacks (12) on the 78 pass plays with both on the field than the 239 pass plays when one or neither lines up (11).

"Having an interior push and a presence with Malik and Derek, Terrance (Knighton) and some of the other guys, it allows the whole thing to work," said Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio.

The Broncos were hard at work on Thursday preparing for Sunday's road game against the Patriots.

For Jackson and Wolfe, their experience together makes it work. After competing against each other for playing time since their 2012 draft arrival, each knows the other's strengths and weakness as well as his own.

"When you practice with someone every day, and you sit by them and you know the same scheme, you just kind of know how each other plays," said Wolfe.

"(Jackson) knows how I'm going to play, and I know how he's going to play. Whoever makes the first move, the other guy's going to play off it."

Each is at his professional apex. Through experience, and, in Wolfe's case, overcoming last year's cervical spine injury, they grew into what they are today: specimens who are too powerful to contain on the outside, and too quick to corral when they bounce inside. ranks Jackson 10th and Wolfe 11th among the 54 defensive ends with enough snaps to be measured, and credits each with an identical tally of hurries (16).

"Smart players, tough players," added Del Rio. "I think they're growing and doing a nice job in our system."

It is a job that will not be reflected in their individual sack numbers. Jackson has two this season; Wolfe has 0.5. But neither care much about their tallies.

"I'm not a selfish guy. At the end of the day, I could have 100 sacks in a game, and if we lose, I'm [ticked] off," Wolfe said. "I don't want to lose. I'm going to do whatever it takes to win."

But that said, Wolfe and Jackson will continue to measure their production against one other.

"They push each other a lot. They push each other for playing time, they push each other for how many pressures they're going to get, how many tackles they're going to get every week," said Ware.

And in watching each other, they gain tips. Jackson studied the way Wolfe handled the run in his 2012 rookie season and applied it to his game, which made him ready in 2013 when Wolfe missed the last five games of the regular season because of lingering effects from a cervical spine injury suffered in the preseason.

"It's a friendly competition," added Wolfe. "There's never really any smack talk or anything. We congratulate each other when we do well. It's more positive motivation. We just motivate each other to do better."

And by doing so, they've already raised the pass rush to new heights when they're on the field together.

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