7 Denver Broncos Players the Seattle Seahawks Say They Can't Sleep on

Patricia TrainaFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 31, 2014

7 Denver Broncos Players the Seattle Seahawks Say They Can't Sleep on

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    Super Bowl XLVIII promises to have many interesting individual matchups between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks, such as Denver quarterback Peyton Manning against the Seahawks’ "Legion of Boom" defensive secondary.

    However, there are a few other intriguing matchups with players whose names don't exactly carry the star power of quarterback Peyton Manning or receivers Wes Welker and Eric Decker.

    During Tuesday's media day session, I asked several members of the Seahawks which Denver players were flying under the radar leading up to this game. 

    Some of the Seahawks players declined to name any individuals, instead offering general praise toward the entire Broncos team. 

    "I think that's a great team. There isn't one in particular person on the team that goes under the radar," said defensive end Chris Clemons.

    "They have a very good group and a very cohesive unit. To me, they play well together, so I can't say one person is under the radar or getting much focus. They are a very good team."

    Center Max Unger agreed.  

    "They're all pretty good to be honest with you," he said, "I don't think there is no such thing as an 'overrated' player, and I'm not sure there is such thing as an 'underrated' player. They all made it this far in the NFL, and to play in this game, obviously doing a lot right."

    While Clemons and Unger didn't have an opinion, several of their teammates did. Read on to find out which Broncos players not named Manning or Welker are contributors whom the Seahawks can't forget about on Sunday. 

    P.S. I asked the same question of about 10 Denver Broncos during media day. Not one was willing to name a specific player, instead offering praise to the entire Seahawks team. 

Defensive Tackle Terrance Knighton

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    The ninth-best defensive tackle per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), defensive tackle Terrance Knighton's "Pot Roast" moniker originated in his rookie season when he voiced his choice of meals onboard a team-chartered flight when he was with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

    But don't go expecting the Seahawks to call Knighton by his catchy moniker. 

    "What's his nickname? Pot Roast?" asked fullback Michael Robinson. "I'm not going to call him that because he's not my teammate. But that boy can play."

    Tight end Luke Wilson agreed with Robinson.  

    "I think Knighton is a really good player and makes a lot of plays for them," Wilson said. "We're going to try to establish the run as we do every game, and we got to take care of him."

    Per PFF, 11 of Knighton's 26 solo tackles came in Denver's last five games (including playoffs). Over that same period, Knighton recorded two of his five sacks and managed at least one quarterback hurry per game. 

    "I don’t know if he’s flying under the radar or not, but he’s not flying under our radar," Robinson added. "You gotta know exactly where he is."

Guard Louis Vasquez

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    There's a very good reason why Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning absorbed the lowest number of sacks (18) among quarterbacks who took at least 75 percent of their team's snaps in 2013. 

    Actually, there's five reasons, to be precise—the guys on the team's offensive line.

    According to Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett, two guys from Manning's human brick wall, guard Louis Vasquez (pictured above) and center Manny Ramirez, lead the way in keeping the legendary quarterback upright. 

    "I think they don’t get much attention but obviously, they have a good offensive line for Peyton Manning not to get hit that much," Bennett said.

    Bennett, who played his college ball at Texas A&M, is no stranger to Vasquez or Ramirez, both of whom played their college ball at Texas Tech, a team that the Aggies played when all were in college.

    "I've been playing against Vasquez and Manny Ramirez since college, and they’ve always been good," Bennett said. "They’re still good now."

    How good have they been? Ramirez, who per USA Today languished as a backup offensive lineman for the Detroit Lions from 2007-10, including their 0-16 2008 season, was cut by the Lions after one month in 2010. 

    After making the switch to center for the Broncos in 2011, Ramirez found a home. In 2013, he allowed just one sack all season long, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required) and earned himself a two-year contract extension this past September.  

    Vasquez, the third-best guard per PFF, was named to his first career Pro Bowl in 2013 after making the jump to Denver following four seasons with San Diego.

    He finished with a 36.8 overall grade from PFF and allowed no sacks and just two quarterback hits.  

Cornerback Champ Bailey

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    When it comes to Super Bowl cornerbacks, all eyes will understandably be on Richard Sherman of the Seahawks, not just for his play, but also for his recent postgame outburst

    However, Sherman's teammate, receiver Golden Tate, said there's another cornerback playing in this game that people should keep an eye on as well.  

    That someone is 15-year veteran Champ Bailey, who is playing in his first career Super Bowl. 

    "I think it’s going to be fun to go against one of the best cornerbacks to play the game, Champ Bailey," Tate said.

    "I really admire how he plays the game. I think it’s going to be a great challenge, a great battle and I’m excited. It doesn’t get any better than to go against one of the best in the Super Bowl on a stage like that."

    Bailey, who was traded by Washington for running back Clinton Portis after the 2003 season, has amassed 52 interceptions over his career.

    He only played in five games this season due to a foot injury, but since returning, he's shown few signs of still being bothered by the injury.

    "Yeah, it's been tough, but I'm not looking back," Bailey said of his abbreviated 2013 season. "I've felt good for about a good month, and I continue to feel better. That's all I can ask for at this point.

    "I can't get all those days and weeks back—that's behind me—but what's in front of me is big, and I know it. I understand it, I feel good and I'm ready for it."

Running Back Montee Ball

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    Seahawks backup linebacker O'Brien Schofield smiled when he was asked the question about which Broncos player has mostly flown under the radar.

    "I think my former teammate, (running back) Monte Ball," said Schofield, who played one season with Ball while the two were at Wisconsin.  

    "I know he can play. He has a little battle there with Knowshon Moreno. Those are two really good backs."

    Indeed, they can. Ball has averaged 4.6 yards per carry in 2013 (regular and postseason). Although he didn't get as many carries as Moreno, according to a report on NFL.com, the Broncos could be looking to build their running game next year around Ball.

    For the time being, though, Ball and Moreno are likely to be featured in Denver's game plan, so the Seahawks linebackers will need to be on their toes.  

    "Obviously they are focused on their passing game but you give (Moreno and Ball) room, and they're able to get some big runs," said Seahawks linebacker Heath Farwell.  

Defensive End Shaun Phillips

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    A good defensive end can certainly give an offensive lineman fits, which is why Seahawks tackle Breno Giacomini's choice was not very surprising.  

    "I feel like the end No. 90 (defensive end Shaun Phillips)," he said. "He's getting up there in years, but he still has some skills."

    Indeed Phillips does, and he has the stats to go along with it. Rated as the 18th-best 4-3 defensive end by Pro Football Focus (subscription required) thanks to his 6.6 overall grade, Phillips tied for seventh with Miami's Oliver Vernon for the league lead in sacks (11.0) among 4-3 defensive ends.

    "He's very shifty and quick and somebody we are going to have to watch for in pass protection," Giacomini said. 

Wide Receiver Andre Caldwell

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    Seattle's famous Legion of Boom understandably fears no opponent, but that doesn't mean that they don't have respect for their competition.

    "I think the (receiver) group collectively is pretty good," said safety Kam Chancellor. "They're connected, they understand, they have a formula, they play well."

    Of course, it doesn't hurt that the Denver receivers and tight ends, four of them recording double digits in touchdown receptions this past season, have a future Hall of Fame quarterback throwing the ball to them.

    There is, however, an up-and-coming receiver cornerback Byron Maxwell thinks is someone people will want to keep an eye on.  

    "(Andre) Caldwell," he said of the seldom-used receiver who caught 18 balls for 226 yards and three touchdowns in 2013. "Caldwell is fast, quick and has all the attributes to be a good receiver."

Punt Returner Trindon Holliday

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    Yes, even the Seattle punter was willing to weigh in on the topic of which Broncos player is the most under the radar.

    Jon Ryan's pick wasn't much of a surprise, either.  

    "They have a lot of great players that all seem to get a lot of attention. For me as a punter, their punt returner, (Trindon) Holliday, is a special talent and is one of the fastest players in the league."

    Holliday recorded two returns for touchdowns this past season, an 81-yard punt return against the Giants in Week 2 and a 105-yard kickoff return in Week 4 against the Philadelphia Eagles

    Although Ryan wouldn't offer up hints as to how the Seahawks plan to neutralize Holliday, there's little doubt that the best strategy is to avoid kicking the ball down the middle of the field to him.  

    "He can break a game open with his return skills," Ryan noted. "In my opinion, he is their most underrated player."

     

    I am a credentialed Super Bowl XLVIII writer who regularly covers the New York Giants. All quotes and information obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow me on Twitter, @Patricia_Traina.