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Replacing Vickerson

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Replacing Kevin Vickerson will not fall on the shoulders of just one Bronco; a range of defensive linemen could see their role at least slightly shift.

But in the cases of players like third-year veteran Mitch Unrein and second-year veterans Malik Jackson and Derek Wolfe, both of whom can swing between the end and tackle positions, they have previous experience on which they can lean. They're past the learning-curve stage of their careers.

Sylvester Williams, on the other hand, is still growing. Inactive for two consecutive games at midseason and three of the last eight overall, Williams' rookie season after being the Broncos' first-round pick has been something a of a slog at times, although his performances have improved the last two weeks, particularly in the pass rush.

"He's just been a step away making those big plays," said linebacker Von Miller. "This last game, he was just a fingertip away from (Tom) Brady. I believe in him. I'm one of his biggest fans."

Belief is what the Broncos have to go by with Williams, who has played 136 snaps this season -- the fewest among their defensive tackles. Unrein has played 86 more snaps than Williams, although it was the rookie who saw the most significant uptick in playing time when Vickerson was injured.

"Mitch has played a lot of ball. So, I'm not really worried about Mitch being in there," said defensive tackle Terrance Vickerson. "'Sly' has the ability to be a game-wrecker. He just has to get the game down mentally. 

"We'll watch some extra film this week and spend a little bit more time with Sly and let him know some things that I see on film and things that he sees."

And that requires opening up a bit more, Knighton said. 

"When (Williams) first got here, me and Vick knew he was going to be a critical part of the rotation, so me and Vick have been working with him ever since," said Knighton. "Now, I just need him to be a little bit more vocal and come out of his shell and just communicate with me more. 

"Being a rookie, you just kind of want to do your job and not want to speak up and don't be wrong. But I'm just going to need him to grow up quick and be there when I need him and just feed off him."

Knighton and Vickerson had a rapport that had become innate over the course of the season, thanks to work on and off the field.

"We worked on that all offseason, watched a lot of film together. I could look at him, he could look at me and we'd know exactly what each other were thinking."

That's the level of communication that Knighton wants to build with Vickerson.

"Who knows -- me and him could be playing together for the next five or six years. It's a relationship we have to build," said Knighton. "He just has to step out of his box and stop thinking like a rookie and step up.

"He's a quiet guy, but I expressed to him that on the field I need to hear him. I need to know what he's seeing, how he's getting blocked."

Williams regards Vickerson as a "big brother," having learned many lessons about the NFL from him, particularly how to slow the game down. Now Knighton becomes his primary teacher.

"I think I've been bonding well with both of those guys," Williams said, "and Terrance has been trying to take me under his wing and tell me, 'We're going to get the job done.'"

Nothing less will suffice.

"Our goal is, we want to win a Super Bowl," said Knighton. "So, he's going to have to grow up quick."

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