As injuries inevitably mount each grueling NFL season, the cliche “next man up” appears. It is the simple statement that whoever is behind said injured starter needs to take his place and perform up to the standards he set. The Broncos have done well this season at every turn when a familiar face loses time due to injury on the field.

Whether it was David Bruton Jr. in for T.J. Ward, Shaquil Barrett in for DeMarcus Ware, Michael Schofield in for Ty Sambrailo and even the much publicized Brock Osweiler in for Peyton Manning, the Broncos haven’t skipped a beat. This week, as the Broncos Wednesday injury report listed 16 players, it will be Darius Kilgo in for Sylvester Williams that will garner the attention of the San Diego Chargers and Broncos fans alike.

“[Vance Walker] has been consistent. He played with a little shoulder last night, too, so he was playing banged up. [Darius] Kilgo came in and played I think 10, 15 plays, something like that. Sly [Williams] has been very consistent for us. He was a captain in the game last night. I know it was very disappointing for him to have to go out, but he and T.J., they’ll battle back. They’re in there laying side-by-side right now, so they’re doing what they have to do to try to get healthy,” Gary Kubiak said of the nose tackle position Monday.

Kilgo was drafted in the sixth round by the Broncos out of the University of Maryland with the idea that he would be buried behind Williams and Marvin Austin Jr. as he learned the ropes of playing in the NFL. That idea was quickly changed. Austin could not get healthy and after dealing with injuries and conditioning issues the Broncos released him in Oct. 27.

Kilgo stood out to the coaches in training camp and quickly moved up the depth chart to Williams’ back up. He played a majority of snaps throughout preseason, compiling two impressive sacks and eight tackles. His preseason performance, coupled with Derek Wolfe’s suspension, gave him an opportunity in the first five games of the season. Once Wolfe returned and Vance Walker showed more versatility at defensive tackle and nose, he saw limited playing time and was a healthy inactive scratch for weeks 6-10. But he played in the last two games and increased his snap total to 94 on the season, good for 12.4% of the defensive playing time this season. The rookie addition hasn’t changed his preparation despite the recent limited playing time.

“My focus is the same every week. I want to prepare myself for the best. I have the mindset that I am going to play each and every game,” Kilgo said Wednesday. “If my name is called then I’ll be ready and prepared to go out there and perform.”

Williams, Walker and Wolfe have been instrumental in the Broncos’ highly touted unit that boast the fewest total yards allowed per game and the second (tie) fewest rushing yards per game (88.7). Kilgo has taken notice of what to watch for and take from their game.

“I just go off of their game. I watch their film and just take some things that can help me in the future … those guys are very active in the middle and they are able to get off blocks and go after the ball. That is one thing that I really try to take from them.”

Kilgo will likely see an increase in playing time this week, although Walker will likely get the majority of the snaps. Either way, Kilgo is prepared for whatever role he has Sunday in San Diego.

“Position-wise, you just have to be stout in the middle at nose guard. You need to play through the scheme and be able to make plays, that’s a big deal. That’s one thing that I have really learned is how to read offenses, offensive lineman’s schemes and put myself in the best position to make those plays.”

Williams has been a valuable asset to the Broncos and an unsung player in a talented defensive group. Kilgo and Walker will be replacing a nose tackle that has played in 50.5% of the defensive snaps. So far the Broncos have not been burned by a “next man up” and Kilgo will surely not want to be the first to let the team down.

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