Denver’s defensive line depth will be tested versus Chargers

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Denver Broncos head coach Vance Joseph confirmed on Saturday that his defensive front will be without two key players on Monday night when they take on the Los Angeles Chargers in the NFL’s opening week finale.

Defensive ends Zach Kerr (knee) and Jared Crick (back) were both ruled out of Monday’s season opener, Joseph said on Saturday. Additionally, nose tackle Kyle Peko (foot), who was listed as questionable, has since been waived.

Credit: Denver Broncos Media Relations

“Zach Kerr is going to be out,” Joseph said. “[RB Devontae] Booker is out and [QB] Paxton [Lynch] is out. [DE] Jared Crick is going to be out and [NT] Kyle Peko is going to be questionable.”

Booker and Lynch were expected to be out, and although Kerr and Crick seemed unlikely to play, there was some hope they would be well enough to contribute. Earlier in the day Saturday, Joseph offered optimistic comments on Peko.

“Kyle Peko has gotten better fast. He practiced the last two days and he looked okay,” the coach said.

Clearly, ‘okay’ was not good enough going up against quarterback Philip Rivers and a Chargers rushing attack that features a healthy Melvin Gordon.

Adam Gotsis will likely make his first NFL start in place of Kerr. Shelby Harris will provide depth behind Gotsis and starter Derek Wolfe. Coach Joseph feels confident about their ability to step up in expanded roles.

“Absolutely, and that’s the way it’s been throughout the preseason. When you watch the San Fran game and the Green Bay game, those guys played well,” Joseph said. “That’s what I expect on Monday night, that’s why they’re here. Gotsis is a second-round pick. He’s a guy with a bright future and Shelby Harris had a hell of a camp. What they did in preseason, I expect them to do on Monday night. That’s why they’re here.”

Without Kerr, who plays a swing interior role and can spell Domata Peko at nose tackle, and with Kyle Peko now gone, Denver is very thin at the nose. Undrafted rookie Tyrique Jarrett could be signed off the practice squad to add depth to the defensive line.

Although it’s extremely late in game prep, Denver ought to consider other free agent nose tackles available. Domata Peko has been the model of consistency throughout his now 12-year NFL career. Only once (2009) has he not played all 16 games, and he has started every game he’s played since his second year in the league. Still, at nearly 33 years old, Peko could use some more depth behind him beyond just an undrafted rookie.

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