ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- During last season's run to the Super Bowl, perhaps no Bronco's national recognition grew more than that of defensive tackle Terrance Knighton.
After some stellar late-season play that included a fourth-down sack of Tom Brady in the AFC Championship Game, 'Pot Roast' has become something of a household name. He even made his commercial debut recently and is looking to do more on the screen.
But for all the growth of his image, Knighton's role on the team may have seen even greater expansion.
The Broncos obviously saw potential in Knighton when they signed him from Jacksonville in free agency last offseason. But considering he'd been demoted to a backup role on a 2-14 team in 2012 after three seasons as a starter, even Denver might not have expected this great of an impact.
"He's now a real anchor for our front," Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio said when OTAs opened in May. "Not only physically -- he's a very strong, talented guy -- but also the leadership ability he brings."
Knighton stepped to the forefront after linemate Kevin Vickerson went down with a hip injury against the Patriots in Week 12. Besides raising his own level of play -- he led the team in tackles for loss (3) and Denver's linemen in tackles (12) during the playoffs -- Knighton helped then-rookie Sylvester Williams with his transition to the starting lineup as Vickerson's replacement.
With Vickerson still on the mend, Del Rio doesn't see Knighton's presence diminishing on a defense that won't return either of last year's captains.
"Terrance returning is a natural guy that's going to be counted on to lead more," he said. "I've been asked the question about leadership quite a bit this offseason and that's not high on my concern list."
Knighton credits much of his own growth to the Broncos' winning culture, which he said shines through in the level of commitment during the offseason relative to what he saw in his time in Jacksonville.
"It raises the level of everybody," he said. "When I first got here last year, I didn't know what to expect for OTAs and then camp, but you see why guys like Peyton [Manning] and Demaryius Thomas and Von Miller, why they play at a high level is because they practice at a high level. They prepare at a high level. And it becomes contagious throughout the roster and I think that's why this team is successful."
Knighton has embraced the high level of preparation this offseason, keeping his weight well within "the ballpark" that coaches prefer from him. During the break leading up to training camp, he'll spend some time with his family but plans to be at Dove Valley the majority of the time to "make sure I'm coming into camp full throttle."
"I want to be a Pro Bowler," he said. "I want to be the best tackle in the NFL."
"Right now I'm just watching future opponents and trying to build off how I played later in the season last year once I got into a good rhythm."