ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There are enough common threads between Jack Del Rio's defense in Jacksonville and the one he runs today in Denver to help smooth over Terrance Knighton's transition this offseason. The terminology is similar, and so is what Del Rio asks of his defensive tackles: to use their size to occupy run blockers and be athletic enough to collapse the pass pocket from inside.
But what Del Rio can do with the defense -- and the personnel he now has at his disposal -- represents a distinct change for Knighton.
"I think it's a little more complex when it comes to X's and O's," Knighton said. "We've got a lot more veterans on the defense. You've got people like Von Miller -- there's not many guys like him in the league. Champ Baileys and things like that. You can do a lot more things with your personnel and it allows everybody else to play with a little bit more freedom."
Knighton and his fellow defensive tackles are free to get adjusted to each other and figure out how to mesh. Knighton is learning from them -- particularly returning starter Kevin Vickerson -- and vice versa.
"Oh, Terrance, man, his instincts and knowledge of the game is real good," Vickerson said. "He's got a good I.Q. of the game, and him playing the same system in Jacksonville, knowing what Jack wants, and then carrying it over to us, it's been good. It's been good. And he's a character. I like the big guy."
But Knighton sees himself a bit differently.
"I'm a bit quieter on the field. I keep to myself. He (Vickerson) is more of a rah-rah guy,"
Knighton said. "He's a veteran. I try to learn as much as I can from him. I'm just trying to learn how he plays and play off him and vice versa."
But there's only so much progress that Knighton can make now. Even though the Thursday morning scuffle between Sylvester Williams and the interior of the Broncos' offensive line offered evidence of the intensity of OTAs, contact at each snap remains minimal. The work of Knighton and other defensive tackles thus becomes more technical in nature.
"Get our footwork right, keep our pad level down and work on our hands and things like that and try to stay on the edge," Knighton said. "Big guys like us, we'll get a lot of push up the middle, a lot of bull rush, but we can't do that right now. Right now it's trying to stay on the edge and get better at a lot of things we can't do with pads on."
In those areas, Del Rio is pleased with his progress.
"Out here on the practice field, you can't see a lot because, you know, we're not in pads yet for the big guys," Del Rio said. "But he's working hard, he's moving well, he's working in the weight room and he's a big body guy for sure."
Del Rio has dubbed Knighton a "dancing bear type," referring to the footwork and speed he displays with a frame that pushes 330 pounds. Knighton's playing time dropped in 2012, his only season in Jacksonville without Del Rio, but the coach saw enough in him to bring him back to build on the progress he had made since being a third-round pick of the Jaguars in 2009.
"He's come in here hungry to get back to the kind of player we know that he's capable of being, that he knows he's capable of being," Del Rio said.
So far, so good.