Broncography: Kevin Vickerson

One thing that has been happening with the Broncos and the NFL in general over the past few years has been a family matter. Denver has twice had brothers on the team at the same time, with Champ and Boss Bailey in 2008 and Worrell and DJ Williams earlier this year. In addition, though, Denver has been bringing in players who have/had family - fathers, uncles and now brothers in the league. Dan Gronkowski was one of those - he has two brothers currently in the league. Another is Kevin Vickerson, the 321-pound defensive end who had his first start at Tennessee, and did an excellent job. He was born Kevin Darnell Vickerson on Jan. 8, 1983 in Detroit, Michigan. Vickerson’s younger brother, Quartez Vickerson, was with the Titans during their 2007 training camp and currently plays arenafotball2.

Kevin Vickerson is one of those players who proves that defensive linemen take time to develop, and who have a few travels as well as travails under their belt when they come into the organization. He grew up in Michigan and attended Martin Luther King High School there, earning Prep All-America accolades as a senior when he helped the school to a 10-1 record and its first Public School League title in 10 years. Additional awards included being ranked among the Midwest’s top 50 prospects (No. 42) by SuperPrep and also rated among the state’s top players by the Detroit Free Press (No. 8), Lansing State Journal (No. 9) and The Detroit News (No. 16).  Vickerson also earned PrepStar All-America honors as a senior. He attended Michigan State University, where he was a 4-year letterman. In his career there, Vickerson played 44 games (19 starts) and totaled 113 tackles, 8.5 sacks, 24.5 tackles for loss, one fumble recovery and two blocked kicks.  When he came to the Combine, he was 6’4.5” inches tall and 301 pounds. He’s grown - and put on muscle - since then, and is currently at 6’5” and 321 lb, with 33-inch arms and 10.5-inch hands that are a powerful weapon. 

Vickerson showed some skills between the Combine and his Pro Day. He ran the 40-yard dash in 5.0 seconds at Combine and 4.97 at his Pro Day. Speed isn’t the same as explosion, though, and that’s something that Vickerson needed to develop: his 10-yard dash (which is the first 10 yards of the 40) was only 1.79. His 20-yard dash was 2.80, though, which showed that he could hold that speed well on, for example, backside pursuit. A 4.97- or 5.0 forty time is good among defensive linemen, if not spectacular. The 225-lb bench press has been accosted for how little it really measures, but it’s still a key part of the Combine drills - Vickerson had only 20 lifts. He did have a 32.5-inch vertical leap, showing good explosion that could be developed with the right training. To confirm that, Vickerson’s broad jump at Combine was 8’7”, and he improved that to 9.0 feet on his Pro Day. That’s a pretty good feat, propelling 300+ lb 9 feet through the air from a standing start. But concrete isn’t a building, nor bronze a sculpture, and Vickerson had some developing to do. He did knock 0.2 seconds off of his 3-cone drill between Combine and Pro Day. He still lasted to the 7th round of the 2005 NFL Draft, where he was taken with the 213th pick by Miami.

He spent his first year with Miami on IR with a knee injury, getting injured early, as many young players do - there’s a world of difference between college ball and the violence of the NFL, where men are literally fighting for a job.  In 2006, he was left inactive for every game. In an attempt to bring his skills up, Miami allocated Vickerson to the Cologne Centurions. He started 10 games, posted 31 tackles and 3.5 sacks and was named a 2007 first-team All-NFL Europa selection. Even so, the Dolphins terminated his contract on Aug. 27, 2007.

Tennessee picked him up in November of 2007, and he found himself on the field for the first time on December 2 against Houston, a game that netted him 2 tackles. He played in 4 games by the end of the season. He spent five weeks on the 53-man roster during the 2007 regular season after spending his first two campaigns out of Michigan State with Miami. He appeared in seven regular season games and one postseason contest in 2008, and Vickerson’s career would take another step forward in 2009. Even though he didn’t start his first game until November 1, he ended the year with 49 tackles, nine quarterback pressures, three passes defensed in 13 games, including two starts. Vickerson tied for the team lead in quarterback pressures twice last season.

Despite his fine season, the Titans decided to trade Vickerson on day two of the 2010 Draft, along with RB LenDale White, to Seattle for a couple of draft choices (a 4th-rounder and a 6th-rounder). Interestingly, Seattle took a look at both players and decided to go in a different direction. White was cut on May 28th, Vickerson on September 5th. Of course, Denver eventually picked up both players - White on September 2nd, and Vickerson just two days after he had been cut by the Seahawks. Nice work by Brian Xanders and his team of scouts. They were looking for him to come available, and Seattle and Pete Carroll obliged them. Denver was quick to pounce.

Vickerson had finished his degree in Criminal Justice in college at Michigan State. He also decided to spend time working with disabled children while in school - it had nothing to do with his major, but a great deal to do with the size of his heart. He’s currently married to Maurica, and has two children, both boys. They live in Detroit, Michigan - or did until recently, when media coverage stopped - and Vickerson would split time between his current city of employment or Nashville to be with his wife and his sons; that’s always a tough thing to do. Hopefully they’ll move to Denver and enjoy the fruits of this beautiful city.

Most Broncos fans don’t know anything about Vickerson, which is understandable - he only reached the team in early September. He’s already made one person a fan, though - Baltimore Ravens Coach John Harbaugh. He was watching film of the Tennessee game, and got to grading Vickerson. Considering the licking that the Ravens put on Denver, I tend to take his thoughts seriously. “He reminds me of some of those Steelers defensive ends you see, so big and physical, great hands,” Harbaugh said.

He is that. At the very least, the Broncos have acquired a starter or rotational depth player who offers a bigger, stronger presence off the end position. Potentially, they have a young nose tackle who can learn under the tutelage of both Wayne Nunnely and Jamal Williams. Time will tell on that. They could even have a big run stuffer who could play the 4-3 when needed. Regardless, they have a bigger, more powerful player who can bring to the weakside the kind of power and size that Justin Bannan brings on the strongside. It’s an uncomfortable fact that Denver has had relatively few opportunities to play their full starting lineup. Given the normal injuries that teams suffer as the year goes on, having Vickerson join the crew on the line is an added bonus.

Andrew Mason had this to say today, in a brief interview with Vickerson:

DESCRIBE YOUR ROLE IN SEATTLE, WHICH CUT YOU LAST MONTH:
I played nose, three-technique, really everything across the board. So it wasn’t a problem with me playing end or three-technique or nose. I’d played it all my life.
HAVE YOU BEEN A 3-4 END BEFORE?
In Miami, my first two years in the league.
DO YOU PREFER THE 3-4 OR 4-3?
It’s all the same. You’ve got to simplify the game, because at the end of the day, you’re only going to get three blocks; at the end of the day, it’s going to be a run or a pass; at the end of the day, it’s just football. You’ve got to simplify the game. If you go into a game overthinking, that’s where you mess up. That’s all. You’ve just got to simplify the game for yourself. That makes it easy.

Getting through the upcoming stretch of games is first on the agenda. It’s comforting to know that the Broncos have yet another player with experience at NT, and this one is a little larger, closer to the ‘normal’ if there is one, for that position - with players ranging from the 302 of Dallas’ Jay Ratliff to the 348 lb of Denver’s Jamal Williams, NTs come in all shapes and sizes. Much of that depends on the scheme, but Denver’s wants serious beef up front.  They look to have gotten a prime cut in Kevin Vickerson.

Learn to laugh at yourself. You will be ceaselessly amused. - Sri Gary Olsen

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