"I am back on the field again this year and loving it and am happy to be out there with the guys," Polk admitted. "Every week you have to prepare to start. You never know what is going to happen so you have to prepare to be a starter."
The 6-foot-2, 262 lb. Polk finished the Broncos game with five tackles on defense and another on special teams. Four of his tackles came on running plays on which he held the runner to 3 yards or less. He left the game after suffering a stinger midway through the first half, but soon returned and inflicted more pain than he endured by night's end.
"I don't think we have enough time to talk about all the benefits of him," Schottenheimer said. "He is as remarkable a player as I have ever been around. He has endless energy. His mouth keeps going on. He is a terrific guy – one of the most popular players on this team.
For all the great plays he made, his most noticeable tackle was one that came two yards too late. With Denver facing a fourth-and-1 from the Chargers 45-yard line early in the fourth quarter, Mike Bell ran a stretch play to the left. Polk got sucked inside on the play, so even though he was able to catch Bell from behind and make a nice play in pursuit, he was unable to prevent the conversion.
Polk recovered quickly. On the next play, he stuffed fullback Cecil Sapp at the line of scrimmage as Denver tried to catch the Chargers off guard with a quick-hitter.
That play was a better indicator of Polk's performance. He did a nice job wrapping up and finishing his tackles, and even looked competent dropping into coverage and covering the flat when asked to do so.
But no matter how well Polk plays, Merriman cannot get back on the field soon enough. Polk has a difficult time disengaging from blocks and lacks any sort of dynamic burst off the edge. The Chargers were ranked No. 2 in total defense before Lights Out was forced out; they have fallen to No. 10 since Polk replaced him.
"One guy doesn't make or break you," Polk warned.
The one aspect of the game where Polk's impact is greater than Merriman's is special teams. Polk is a former two-time special teams player of the year. Although his numbers aren't as gaudy as those posted by the underrated Hanik Milligan a season ago, he is an unquestioned leader on the coverage units who makes life easier for the players around him.
In Denver, Polk's biggest play on special teams was also his easiest. On the Chargers' final kickoff - which was kicked from the Broncos' 40-yard line – Polk got downfield and downed a fallen Sapp, who had covered the high-arching kick at his own 3-yard line.
"He plays a major role for us in the kicking game," Schottenheimer conceded.