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Terrance Knighton: Bolstering the Front

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Sorry fans. Terrance Knighton's favorite food isn't actually pot roast.

"I'm a steak guy," Knighton says. "Probably a ribeye. A nice ribeye from Ruth's Chris [Steak House]."

The first time he tried the food that now doubles as his nickname was on a Jaguars team flight back from a game, when a clowning teammate bestowed the new moniker upon him. Though the pseudonym stuck, Knighton hasn't exactly embraced the dish in the years since.

"I've had it four times," he says. "And that's just because people wanted to tell me that they've got the best pot roast."

"I just came from a restaurant a week ago that said they had the best pot roast in Denver and they invited me and gave me free food. I'm not going to pass on free food, so I went and tried it."

The man colloquially known as Pot Roast – or to his teammates as T-Knight – has grown a lot since his time in Jacksonville, and I don't mean physically. After joining the Broncos, he went from a relative unknown to a national figure in less than a year, co-starring with a French bulldog in a tires commercial, establishing a far-reaching Twitter personality and even looking to start a clothing line based on his favorite phrase, "Snooo Daaat."

"The more you win, the more opportunities you get," Knighton says. "You look at Peyton [Manning]: he has 10 commercials on TV at a time, and that's because of the success he's had in the league. He's won a Super Bowl, he's been MVP and with winning comes individual accolades and success."

Knighton's successes became increasingly frequent during his first year as a Bronco, especially after veteran defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson went down for the season with a hip injury in Week 12 against the Patriots. Knighton gobbled up double teams every week down the stretch and led the team in tackles for loss (3) and Denver's linemen in tackles (12) during the playoffs, while also helping then-rookie Sylvester Williams with his transition to the starting lineup as Vickerson's replacement.

The signature play that turned Pot Roast into a household name was perhaps the Broncos' biggest of the year: Late in the third quarter of the AFC Championship Game, with the Patriots facing fourth-and-3 at the Denver 29, Knighton swam around Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins and burst toward Tom Brady, wrapping him up for the drive-ending sack.

"I didn't try to go out there and be Superman," Knighton said of his impressive late-season run. "I just wanted to make an impact. And when you get opportunities to play in the Super Bowl or go to the Super Bowl, that's like a once-in-a-lifetime thing. I wanted to win so bad, it just showed in my play."

John Elway and Co. obviously saw potential in Knighton, who had played for Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio in Jacksonville, when they signed him as a free agent in March of 2013. But considering he'd been demoted to a backup role on a 2-14 team in 2012, even the Broncos might be pleasantly surprised by how much impact he has made in Denver. The player who never quite blossomed in Jacksonville now seems like a distant memory, while Knighton has embraced the tone that is well established at Dove Valley.

"Everything is done for winning," Knighton says. "It starts with Elway and it goes down all the way to the locker room."

"How we work out, how we prepare, how we eat, how we practice – everything is based on winning. Guys hold each other accountable and that's the difference between winning teams and losing teams."

The sixth-year veteran's burgeoning career and seamless transition with the Broncos make it feel like he's been in Denver for ages when in fact, it's only been 18 months. His presence in Denver was only further affirmed when Knighton was voted by his teammates as one of two defensive captains for 2014.

Media asked Del Rio all offseason about a potential leadership void on defense from the departure of 2013 captains Champ Bailey and Wesley Woodyard, but the coordinator reiterated he wasn't worried. With Knighton stepping up and the addition of other veterans like DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward and Aqib Talib, that storyline has been swallowed whole since the season began.

"Before I was voted captain, [Head] Coach [John] Fox said there were like seven or eight guys that got a vote," Knighton says, "so that just speaks volumes about the defense. It doesn't really put any pressure on me to do too much or try to speak for the group."

"Me and DeMarcus speak to the D-line, and we know that Von [Miller] and Danny [Trevathan] are going to speak for the linebackers and T.J. and Chris [Harris Jr.] and Talib will lead the back end."

"I don't feel any pressure being the captain. I don't feel like I have to do more. It's just an honor to have it and it just shows the respect that my teammates have for me. It makes you want to play harder and it makes you want to lead on the field more."

The 6-foot-3, 335-pounder's presence hasn't diminished since the end of last season, as he continues to draw multiple blockers and make plays despite the extra attention. Knighton batted down two passes against the Chiefs in Week 2, the latter of which capped a four-down goal-line stand in the waning seconds to clinch a 24-17 victory. Against the Seahawks in Week 3, he rallied the troops on the sideline and at halftime when trailing 17-3 and then made a crucial tip of a field goal attempt in the third quarter, sending the ball wide and keeping the Broncos within two scores.

Denver's D had just enough lapses against the Seahawks to allow 26 points, including the game-winning score in overtime, but still looked dominant for stretches against an offense that brandishes a varied set of talented weapons. The visible week-to-week progress and potential return of Danny Trevathan against the Cardinals have the defense's potential pointing skyward.

"Besides the overtime drive and the two drives at the end of the half, we looked like a championship defense (against Seattle)," Knighton says. "We didn't give them anything."

"The fact now that we're playing more and more together, guys are learning each other better, we're learning the defense better, and it's allowing us to play faster. And it shows each week."

As long as Peyton Manning is around, the Broncos' defense will come second in the national attention it garners, no matter how well it plays. Even in 2012, when Del Rio's unit ranked second in yards allowed and fourth in points allowed, it was Manning and the league's second-highest scoring offense that occupied most of the headlines.

But Knighton knows the Mile High faithful still have a special place in their hearts for dominant play on the other side of the ball, and he hopes he and his teammates can deliver.

"You think back to the Orange Crush days and that's what Denver is known for," Knighton says. "When we're playing home games, the crowd can't wait for the defense to get on the field to make noise." "Fans want to see great defense, and that's what we want to give them."

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