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Malik Jackson: The defense's unsung hero

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Von Miller's dancing in a Madden commercial, Terrance Knighton's driving a car on a treadmill and DeMarcus Ware is one of the most beloved defensive players in NFL history.

The players who comprise the Broncos' defensive front and pass rush are everywhere.

But defensive end Malik Jackson, a key contributor to the Broncos' front, seems to fly under the radar. But he doesn't mind the lack of sacks and the lack of attention. He's just looking to make an impact on the defense.

"It's cool for me, I'm more of a quiet guy anyway, let somebody else have the spotlight and the camera," Jackson said. "I just want to make sure my job is safe as far as being out there between those lines on Sunday."

Jackson's season stats aren't overwhelming – three sacks, nine QB hits, 24 QB hurries, 23 tackles and 21 stops. While taking down the the quarterback is the ultimate prize, that's not everything. Jackson has three sacks on the season – 10 behind team-leader Miller. But without Jackson's interior push, Miller and Ware wouldn't be free around the edge to get to the quarterback.

Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio said the inside push and the ability for players to win one-on-one matchups against guards is a vital component to the Broncos' rush.

"I think DeMarcus and Von as the edge guys will benefit from that interior push and Malik is really good at it," Del Rio said. "So there's no question that the interior guys struggle to put up the same numbers that exterior guys do, but I think Malik is very effective for us and the number of snaps that he gets and his effectiveness I think is a pretty strong ratio."

Jackson is doing his part to help the Broncos maintain their status as the No. 2 rush defense and sit tied for third in the league with 38 sacks.

"It's one of those things where we know we've got two great edge rushers," Jackson said. "If the quarterback can just stand in the pocket and have no middle push -- especially Philip [Rivers], he likes to step up in the pocket, that's his safe haven -- it's one of those things if we can get pressure around the edge to box them in and the pressure up the middle to keep them there, so he can't extend his arm or throw it like he wants to.

"It's not all about getting sacks, it's about making sure he's uncomfortable and making sure he knows that we're there."

Jackson had a particularly productive day on Sunday as the team overall was able to get to Kyle Orton four times and hold the Bills to just 74 rushing yards. Individually, Jackson had one sack, one QB hit and six combined tackles, including two for a loss.

He accomplished all of that despite playing 60 percent of the defense's snaps.

Ware often reaps the benefits of Jackson's push up the middle with 10 sacks of his own this season. He was happy to see Jackson get around Bills guard Kraig Urbik and find Kyle Orton for the ninth sack of Jackson's career.

The Broncos were all smiles in their final practice before traveling to San Diego. Take a glance here.

"I told him I was going to run actually a D-Line stunt up front where I went underneath and he came around," Ware said. "That one didn't work, so I said 'Hey Malik, I'm going to run around the corner, when the quarterback steps up you better have my back.' He stepped up and he was there and he looked at me and he was like, 'We got him.' He was pumped. When you talk about plays and you make those plays and that's what teamwork's about."

While teamwork and camaraderie is important in pass rush, so is competition. While sacks aren't everything, they're certainly important.

"We don't want to have D-Ware, Von out there getting all the sacks," Jackson said. "You know you see Von get a sack or D-Ware get a sack, or me or Wolfe get a sack, you think, 'Dang, I want to rush that guy. I want to get a sack.' So I think it's more of a competition.

"We feed off each other and make each other better."

Malik questioned why he didn't receive the game ball after the game, but Del Rio gave the nod to Chris Harris Jr. and Brandon Marshall. Despite not receiving the accolade, Del Rio had heavy praise for his lineman and noted that he was "right there" in nearly getting the game ball.

"When you work with a guy and he develops and becomes an impactful player and maybe didn't come into the league with that description or that label that he can be that, and he's kind of become that, that's good for us, and good for him, Del Rio said. "He's earned it through a lot of hard work."

Coming into the league, many analysts labeled Jackson as a "tweener." His rookie season went by with little impact as he played just 123 snaps as the Broncos' front was stacked. Jackson's size may still leave him with that label, but he is confident that his play speaks for itself: "I get down there and handle my own."

Despite sitting behind Wolfe on the depth chart, Jackson has been on the field for more plays this season (473) than either Terrance Knighton and Sylvester Williams – both starters.

From Chris Harris' first sack of the season to C.J. Anderson's three touchdowns, check out the shots of the game from Sunday's win over the Bills.

But he isn't looking for an increased amount of playing time, he likes his role and the quality plays he is able to make when he isn't on the field the entire game. He isn't the kind of player who wants to be on the field for 90 snaps, he wants to make his presence know when he's out there.

"I want to get a good 45 snaps, let Wolfe get 45 snaps plus and I'll get 45 and just go out there and do your job – just be healthy and give the team best four or five plays I can give them and get out and let [Derek] Wolfe do his thing," Jackson said. "I think it's best not to be selfish as players and make sure you let your backup get in or person behind you get in because they earned the time too."

Jackson certainly has had quality snaps all season. As a whole, the Broncos have gotten 38 sacks in 577 pass plays – good for one sack every 15.18 pass plays. But when Jackson is on the field, the Broncos are able to get to the QB for a sack once every 11.10 pass plays. When Jackson is on the sideline, the Broncos get a sack every 28.33 pass plays.

Upon hearing these statistics, Jackson was shocked and called it "crazy." He couldn't pinpoint the reasoning for his impactful presence, but noted that Del Rio utilizes him on third down frequently.

While these stats show the importance of Jackson's pressure on the quarterback, the Jackson-Wolfe tandem is even more effective: When these two third-year players are on the field, the Broncos have gotten to the QB 20 times in 173 pass plays – good for one sack every 8.65 pass plays.

"I think it's just coming here, it's our third year together," Jackson said of the successful dynamic between him and Wolfe. "We know each other pretty well. I know what kind of moves he wants to do and the kind of technique he wants to use and he knows what I'm going to do. It helps when Coach [Jay] Rodgers tells us which way the O-Line is sliding and their tendencies. So I think it's a lot of things that kind of go into it but I think we just get the glory as players."

The commercials and media attention aren't what Jackson is looking for. He just wants to help his team.

"Those things [helping the team win and coaches' approvals] mean more to me than dollars or applauses by media or fans," he said.

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