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Broncos' depth eases concern over Vickerson's rehab

The SportsXchange

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When John Fox became the Denver Broncos' head coach in 2011, he inherited arguably the worst defensive tackle situation in the NFL, just as he was installing a 4-3 defense to replace the 3-4 used under predecessor Josh McDaniels. The Broncos promptly went through the draft without adding a defensive tackle, addressing plenty of other needs but exacerbating the issues on the inside.

Just before that year's lockout, Fox re-signed Kevin Vickerson, a defensive end in McDaniels' 3-4. No one knew it at the time, but Vickerson was the first piece of a gradual transformation that turned a long-time weakness into a strength, peaking when Terrance Knighton shredded the New England Patriots' offensive line in the AFC Championship Game five months ago.

But now Vickerson might find himself relegated to a reserve role. He missed the final five games of the regular season and all of the playoffs last season with a hip injury. In his absence, 2013 first-round pick Sylvester Williams ascended to the starting lineup and played well in spurts.

"He played some good ball for us last year. Right now he's becoming more of himself in his role," Vickerson said of Williams. "He's learning the plays more and being more fast and playing with and identifying blocks well."

Meanwhile, Vickerson watches from the sideline, where he also sees Malik Jackson and Derek Wolfe rotate onto the first team and former Giant Marvin Austin make plays in his bid to earn a roster spot as a reserve. Vickerson said Tuesday there is no timetable set for his return, and that he was only cleared to begin motion work last week after spending 14 weeks on crutches.

"I passed the sports test. Just getting back to my old self is just moving, feeling my strength back and doing the things I used to do before I got injured," Vickerson said. "Like I said, that's just my biggest part man is just trying to move like I used to move. Pushing guys - I'm holding up 700 pounds sometimes on the double teams, so look, I get to that point and I'll be good."

That point may still be a while away. Vickerson hopes to be back in the lineup for the regular-season opener against the Indianapolis Colts. But the Broncos appear now to have enough depth to withstand his absence, however long it lasts.

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