Broncos betting on odd couple to solve run defense

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The first is enamored by John Elway, is a career underdog and is “super duper” excited to jumpstart his career in Denver.

The other is an established 11-year veteran on the backside of his career that joined the Broncos due to his relationship with the coaching staff.

Nearly the only similarities between the two players are they weigh significantly over 300 pounds, and they both signed with the Broncos on March 11 to help fortify the defensive line.

The first is Zach Kerr (6-foot-2, 334 pounds) and the other is Domata Peko (6-foot-3, 325 pounds). General manager John Elway added the 659 pounds to the defensive line to boost the fifth-worst rushing defense in the NFL last season, and while they are both capable of that, they couldn’t be any more different.

Over the past 11 years—since Peko was drafted in the fourth-round of the 2006 draft—the big man in the middle started 156 of a possible 176 regular season games, including nine seasons of not missing a single game. In that same time period, Kerr attended five different schools—Quince Orchard High School, Fork Union Military Academy, University of Maryland, North Carolina Central and the University of Delaware—went undrafted in 2014 and started a total of eight games in the NFL.

During his 11 years as a member of the Cincinnati Bengals, Peko established himself as a leader of the team, so much so he was named a captain. He looks to bring this leadership to Denver.

“Leadership is something you do by example,” he said. “I’m not going to come and here and talk; I like to show my leadership through work and work ethic and how I present myself on and off the field. I lead by example. I’m just going to go and there and continue to do what I’ve been doing, and that’s give my best effort, working hard, always being coachable and always giving my best effort to win. Guys in Cincy they saw that, and they just followed my lead.”

There may not be another player on the roster who could take after Peko’s leadership more than Kerr. In fact, less than 48 hours after the two joined the Broncos it was clear that Peko had already rubbed off on the 26-year old.

“I just got to learn from guys like Peko,” Kerr said. “Keep sharpening my tools, like he said we are going to sharpen each other.”

The differences between the two extend on the field as well. Although both are defensive lineman, they will each have very different roles.

“I’m a nose. I’ve been a nose guard for Cincy for 11 years in the AFC North, and that’s a tough division,” Peko said. “That’s where I see myself here, being a strong nose in the middle, holding the point on pass rush downs and being able to get loose and make some plays. I like to not only consider myself just a nose in the middle of the field, but I like to run sideline to sideline and run around on plays, on screens on reverses all that type of stuff. I want to bring energy, stoutness and playmaking abilities.”

“Obviously I’m willing to play any position they want me to play, just be a key contributor and come in and start working. I don’t care where I play, never did and never will,” Kerr said of his role. “[In Indianapolis] I played everything. I was all over the place—nose, five [technique], three technique. I was all over the place.”

Vance Joseph said the similarities between his two new defensive linemen were “size, size, size and play personality.” Another similarity is they were both brought in to help replace Denver’s previous defensive tackle Sylvester Williams, who signed with the Tennessee Titans during free agency.

In fact, the Broncos are betting that the combination of Peko and Kerr will be a better investment than just Williams on his own. Williams’ three-year contract with the Titans is for an average of $5.83 million per year. Peko’s two-year contract is for an average of $3.75 million per year, and Kerr’s two-year contract is for an average of $1.625 million, totaling $5.375 million for the two new Broncos.

For the price of Williams, Denver signed two potential starting defensive lineman and saved nearly half a million in salary cap space in the process. Whether or not this gamble by Elway works out or not will depend on the play of Denver’s new odd couple on the defense line.

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