ENGLEWOOD, Colo. –Despite an early injury to veteran starting defensive tackle Ty Warren, the Broncos' front seven turned in a strong performance in Sunday's season-opening defeat of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Denver held Pittsburgh to just 75 yards rushing on 26 carries and sacked Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger five times. A big part of that success was solid play in the middle of the defensive line from tackle Mitch Unrein, who was on the field for 49 percent of the defense's snaps.
"I felt like it went alright," Unrein said. "It's always good to get those cobwebs out after the first game. That's probably half as many snaps as I had all last year, so to get that many snaps in the first game really feels good."
Head Coach John Fox said Monday that he was pleased with the way Unrein stepped up when his number was called.
"I thought Mitch (Unrein) played well," Fox said. "With Ty (Warren) going out after five plays, you're a guy short there for the rest of the game. I thought (Unrein) stepped in and did a good job. Obviously he was mentally prepared because he executed his job well."
Late in the first quarter, with the Steelers facing third-and-12 from the Broncos' 36-yard line, defensive end Derek Wolfe sacked Roethlisberger for a 9-yard loss that brought on a punt instead of a field goal attempt. After the game, Wolfe was quick to point out that he couldn't have made it happen without Unrein.
"I was running a pass-rush game with Mitch Unrein and he did a great job of picking the center for me," Wolfe said. "I came around and was free – (he) picked him so much that I almost had too much space to work with. I can thank Mitch for that sack."
Unrein said it felt great to work together with Wolfe for the rookie's first career sack.
"I thought that was awesome," Unrein said. "He's a great guy. He's not selfish at all, and I really appreciate him giving me a shout-out for helping him get that sack. It was a pretty awesome sack, how we got through there and got (Roethlisberger) down to the ground. He's not an easy guy to take down, so that was a great way for him to start the season off."
With Monday's news that Warren is now on injured reserve with a season-ending triceps tear, it appears that Unrein, a reserve a season ago, will be counted on to take on a bigger role going forward.
"It affects us a lot," Unrein said of Warren's injury. "He's a great leader, but as (Head) Coach (John) Fox always says, 'Next guy up.' That kind of opens the door for guys like me, so I've just got to keep on working and hopefully fill his spot."
Though Unrein's role in the defense has changed with Warren's injury, the way he prepares in practice will remain the same.
"I just need to keep on working," Unrein said. "That's the only thing I can control, is the way I work. (Warren's injury) is a huge loss to the D-line. I feel really bad for the guy, because he's such an emotional and physical leader out there on the field. Hopefully I can step up and take my opportunity."