ENGLEWOOD, Colo—Wednesday, as he conducted a press conference, Denver Broncos defensive tackle Vance Walker gave thoughts on various subjects, such as his connections to receiver Demaryius Thomas, among others.
“The biggest adjustment is probably the altitude,” Walker said. “Outside of that though, everything is pretty good. We have a good group of teammates. Everybody has been really helpful. Everybody is chipping in. I really like everybody.”
With the acquisition of Walker, the Broncos were looking for someone who can likely play 15-20 snaps as a rotational defensive lineman and provide versatility. In fielding his next question, which concerned what he feels the Broncos want him to do, he responded in like manner.
Walker, who is now with his third AFC West team in as many seasons, was then asked if he deems it weird that this has happened. “Not so much as far as the Raiders,” he said. “A lot of those guys that I was there with, they're not there anymore—coaches and a lot of guys that I played with. It's nothing really there. As far as Kansas City, obviously, it's a big rivalry and it's no secret that they let me go for whatever reason. I'm always excited to play.”
Walker then humbly, yet confidently, responded to a question concerning whether his versatility made him attractive to the Broncos, who are re-tooling their defensive line on their way to the 3-4 scheme.
“The nose [tackle] can play three-technique or end,” he said. “It pretty much has a lot of versatility in this system. The biggest thing is really getting after the quarterback. That's something that I like to do. I'm just looking forward to it.”
When questioned about his relationship with fellow offseason acquisition, defensive end Antonio Smith, Walker was complimentary. Incidentally, before this article went to press, it was announced Thursday morning that Smith is being investigated for child abuse in Fort Bend County Texas (the greater Houston metro area).
“He's a great guy,” Walker said. “He's one of those guys that you want to hang around and just pick up what he's doing and what he's talking about. He's been in the league for so many years. He's just a great guy and he's a great player as well.”
After having to play against him twice a year over the last two seasons, Walker was also asked what it's like going against quarterback Peyton Manning in practice. Walker was impressed and can see why Manning’s perennially one of the most prolific players in the NFL.
“It's pretty amazing just from being around other teams and scouting him,” he said. “Just his progressions and how he's able to decipher defenses, coverages and everything. He's definitely the best at it. I'm happy to be on his side. He does a really good job at it.”
Much has been made about the Broncos'defense moving to a 3-4 under the direction of new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and Walker revealed that it is a significant adjustment.
“I just know as far as the defensive linemen, we've got a lot of new terminology and plays,” he said. “It's tough kind of forgetting what you did in the past and doing what your coaches [ask] and what is required for the team to be successful. You can tell everyone is starting from square one. It's not necessarily a bad thing. It's a fresh start. The system they had here last year and even when I was playing in Kansas City, the system that we've got now may be better suited for me and the other guys that are on the team.”
Regarding what it will be like to reunite with Thomas, with whom he was a teammate in 2007 and 2008 at Georgia Tech, Walker stated succinctly, “Yeah. It will be like old times.”
He also confirmed that he and his fellow Yellow Jackets teammates in college saw great potential in Thomas, and when asked if he thought Thomas would become the player that he is today, he responded affirmatively.
“I did,” he said. “We all did. Back at [Georgia] Tech—I want to say that he came a year after me [I confirmed that this is accurate] and he redshirted his first season at Georgia Tech. We had to go against him playing defense. Just the stuff that he would do, it just left us amazed. We always knew he'd be on par with [Detroit WR] Calvin [Johnson] because Calvin was there with us as well. It's not really a surprise what he's doing.”
Also on those Georgia Tech teams was WWE star Roman Reigns, or Joe Anoa'i, as he was known outside of the ring, as a defensive tackle for the Yellow Jackets, who later played for the Canadian Football League's Edmonton Eskimos in 2008. Walker was asked how he felt about being a fellow defensive lineman with him in college.
“I love him to death,” he said. “He is a really good guy. He had a crazy side to him, but he was a really good guy. Same type of person as a lot of the vets. A really hard worker. He knows he's blessed and he's always trying to outwork everybody.”
Walker also talked about his great expectations for the Broncos defense—a unit that sent five players to the Pro Bowl in 2014.
“We have super high expectations,” he said. “Just to be the best. We've got a really good group of guys between the D-line, the linebackers, the ends obviously, the cornerbacks and safeties. I don't think I've ever been on a team more talented. We've got really high expectations. We've just got to go out there and work every day to live up to those.”
Walker later alluded to how valuable his versatility has been at previous stops in the NFL. He has been called upon to wear many hats in his short pro career.
“I played more of a three-technique at [Georgia] Tech and it wasn't until I got to the Falcons [he played for Atlanta from 2009-2012] where they wanted me to play nose and put on some more weight,” he said. “I did that, which wasn't a problem. I was really good at that. It was really when I went to the Raiders—they needed help and I was a three-technique there, but they need a four-technique defensive end. When they put me there in practice, they realized that I might have been just as good as the starters if not better. They kind of stuck me there. Just being quick, too. There are not a lot of guys that are 310 [pounds] and can move like a three-technique or an end. A lot of that has to do with it.”
As for a preference, Walker also confirmed he prefers to play inside as opposed to outside succinctly: “because I'm a big guy. I like to fight.”
After signing a three-year deal with the Chiefs in 2014, they released him in March, making him available for the Broncos to pick up. Walker was asked whether there is extra motivation to play Kansas City twice this season.
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“No. I want to win every game,” he responded pragmatically. “Obviously you want to win your division and conference. That's over with. I dealt with that when it happened. It's an unfortunate situation. I can complain about it, but I've let it go months ago. It's just something that I've just kind of let go.”
Walker closed the conference by fielding questions on how he has become a good inside pass rusher. He notched eight sacks as an interior player over the last three seasons. He talked about the mindset one must cultivate and his view on the opposing signal caller.
“A lot of it is natural,” he said. “Even the guys that don't have it naturally, you just work hard at it. A lot of film study and watching film. There are a ton of drills that we do that coaches can put you through. It's just more of a mindset. You just have to be really aggressive. You've just got to hate quarterbacks. That's the biggest thing.”
In leafing through the fruits of the loquacious Walker, I'm convinced he has what it takes to be a great asset to the Broncos defense moving forward. This is perhaps especially true if Smith is indeed found guilty of the child abuse charges against him, as Walker has already manifested his versatility. In the case of Smith, we’ll assume he’s innocent, until proven guilty. As always, we shall see what happens moving forward.
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