ENGLEWOOD • Take less money, gain more weight.
Defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson heard each of those messages from the Denver Broncos in the offseason and complied with both.
The result has been one of the strongest seasons in his seven-year NFL career — and at a bargain to boot.
Playing at 330 pounds, about 40 pounds more than what he weighed in at last year, Vickerson has been occupying two offensive linemen at a time for much of the time, freeing up Denver’s linebackers to make plays.
“I want to eat up blockers, let the backers run free and fast,” Vickerson said. “If I can take two — center-guard, guard-tackle, center-tackle — however it works, then that’s good. Just take up two guys and let the linebackers eat.”
Speaking of eating — when Jack Del Rio took over as Denver’s defensive coordinator in the offseason, he quickly saw that Vickerson couldn’t be the big line clogger he was looking for if he played at 290 pounds, the way he did in 2011. Del Rio asked him to put some meat back on and return to the size he was when he was at his peak with the Titans in 2009 and the Broncos in 2010.
“Not just go out and eat a bunch of pizza and pack on a bunch of fat,” Del Rio said. “It was good weight, muscle weight that he added, so it’s been good for us.”
Vickerson also agreed to essentially getting his salary cut in half, from about $2.2 million to $1.2 million, as the Broncos tried to clear some cap room and save money on a player who missed the final 11 games last season with an injured ankle. Denver also was making room for the free agent signing of Justin Bannan, who lines up beside Vickerson and plays much the same role.
And while neither the salary nor Vickerson’s numbers — 32 tackles, two sacks, three tackles for loss — are astronomical, sometimes with interior defensive linemen, the numbers don’t tell the whole story.
“He just makes things a lot easier on us,” said linebacker Wesley Woodyard, who leads the Broncos with 94 tackles. “It’s real good when you don’t have to worry about linemen coming up to the next level. You’ve got a guy like Kevin up there who demands a double team.”
With Vickerson anchoring the line, the Broncos are ranked ninth against the run and fourth overall. On Sunday, it gets a good test against Tampa Bay and rookie running back Doug Martin. Denver had a setback last week when Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles went for 107 yards.
“Vickerson, he’s a big anchor guy,” defensive end Elvis Dumervil said.
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