ENGLEWOOD — Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton took Sylvester Williams aside Wednesday in light of Kevin Vickerson’s season-ending hip injury and told the Denver Broncos’ first-round draft pick it’s time for him to step up, speak up and grow up.
“Sly has the ability to be a game-wrecker,” Knighton said in the locker room later. “He just has to get the game down mentally ... He needs to be a little bit more vocal. Our goal is to win a Super Bowl, so he’s going to have to grow up quick.”
Williams has been a game-day inactive three times this season, twice in the last four games. The only time he’s played more than 19 snaps was Sunday night at New England, when Vickerson dislocated his right hip and Williams ending up playing 36 snaps in Denver’s 34-31 overtime loss to the Patriots.
What Williams lacks in experiences he makes up for in exuberance.
He said he’s ready to fill the void Vickerson has left by plugging the holes and crashing the pocket beginning Sunday at Kansas City in a clash of 9-2 teams vying for AFC West supremacy — and maybe home-field advantage in the playoffs.
“I’m going to welcome the role, man. I’m just ready to go out and help my team win and play the best that I can, and hopefully prove to my coaches that I’m ready to step in and be a starter,” Williams said. “I’m sorry to see my big brother go down, and I hope he gets healthy and can come back again and help us next year, but as far as me, I’m ready to go, man. I’m ready to play football.”
Third-year pro Mitch Unrein also will see his role expanded and the Broncos signed Sione Fua as a backup when they put Vickerson on season-ending injured reserve Wednesday. Fua started a dozen games over three seasons in Carolina, which waived him two weeks ago.
Vickerson had 22 tackles and one sack — of Tom Brady on Sunday night before he got hurt — while starting every game this season and helping Denver rank fourth against the run. Williams has six tackles in seven games as a sub.
“The good thing about him is he had me and Vick to learn from throughout the season and we shared all of our secrets, all of our techniques with him,” Knighton said.
Vickerson is the second Denver defensive starter to get hurt this month, joining safety Rahim Moore (leg), who was put on recallable IR.
“I think it’s a huge blow,” Knighton said. “He’s our motor. He gets us going up front. And obviously me and him have built a relationship where we know how each other plays. It’s almost to where we don’t have to say anything to each other.”
Knighton said he didn’t think there was a better D-tackle tandem in all of football.
“Obviously, we don’t have the eight, nine sacks like the J.J. Watts or the Geno Atkins,” he said. “But I think that what me and him meant to our defense, being stout in the middle, not allowing quarterbacks to step up, things like that, when it comes to that, I think me and him were the best in the league.”
Vickerson visited with his teammates at their Dove Valley headquarters Wednesday morning and Knighton said his spirits were good.
“I think everybody’s spirits are fine. I think of everybody, it probably hurt me the most,” Knighton said. “Every day the two D-tackles, they build that relationship, and they take pride in being the big guys on the team. We walk through the locker room, everybody moves. That’s just the mentality of D-tackles. I’m going to miss him being out there but I’m definitely going to play for him and play harder for him and represent him.”
Notes: Interim head coach Jack Del Rio said he remains confident RB Knowshon Moreno (ankle) and CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (shoulder) will practice this week. ... QB Peyton Manning skipped Wednesday’s workout again, as has been his habit of late. ... There is still no timetable for John Fox’s return to work. He was flying back to Denver on Wednesday from Charlotte, N.C., where he underwent heart surgery on Nov. 4. ... The Broncos signed DE Brandon Moore to their practice squad and released WR Chad Bumphis.