Vonnie Holliday helping bolster defense in Denver
When Vonnie Holliday was shopping for a new team, the defensive lineman received all sorts of suggestions from family and friends, even random strangers. The message was basically the same: Be sure to check out the New England Patriots, they're the front runners with Tom Brady back. And stay clear of Denver! Still, Holliday couldn't cross the Broncos off his list, even if they had a defense in disarray and a new coach who began his tenure by quarreling with his Pro Bowl quarterback and receiver. Something just intrigued Holliday. So he signed on with Denver in early September, eschewing other potential suitors like Carolina, San Diego and New England. That decision has now left him feeling like he cashed in a winning lottery ticket. "We've been the talk of the country," said Holliday, whose undefeated team travels to San Diego on Monday night. "This defense is playing well." Holliday has been an integral part of Denver's 3-4 alignment, filling up space in the middle as the Broncos now boast one of the top defenses in the league. This is precisely what he envisioned when he selected Denver. "I remember watching Denver playing Seattle in the preseason and the local bartender is like, 'Hey, you don't want to go there,"' Holliday recalled. "Everybody gives you advice." Holliday didn't want to rule out any options. He couldn't afford to after coming off right knee surgery in January. The 33-year-old wasn't even sure if he'd be ready in time for the season. He spent the first 1 1/2 months after the operation running on an underwater treadmill. Only gradually did he increase his fitness level by taking spinning and yoga classes. To friends and family, the 12-year veteran expressed confidence in making it back to the field. Silently, though, he was wondering if that was even realistic. If he did come back, who would sign him with his knee? "I'm sitting there watching preseason games and looking at these guys, thinking, 'I can play better than that guy,"' said Holliday, who has two sacks and a forced fumble this season. "But it's frustrating. As August kept creeping along, I thought I may be sitting (out) opening week of the season ... I kept working and waiting for my opportunity." Just before the start of the season, the calls came. Teams were expressing an interest, including Denver. Yet he was wary. Like the rest of the country, Holliday read the reports of Josh McDaniels' feud with Jay Cutler that ultimately lead to the rocket-armed quarterback's trade to the Chicago Bears. Then came the suspension of receiver Brandon Marshall for insubordination in training camp. "All we see or hear about is all the negative stuff that's coming out," Holliday said. So Holliday spoke with Denver defensive backs Andre' Goodman and Renaldo Hill, former teammates in Miami. "The story they're giving me doesn't match up with the story I'm reading and seeing every day on the news and in the paper," Holliday said. He decided to check things out for himself, arriving in Denver and chatting with players in the cafeteria. Soon after, Holliday was sold. "I called my wife up and said, 'Look, I think this is going to be a good situation,"' Holliday said. So far, it's worked out. Despite a knee that took most of the offseason to mend, Holliday hasn't missed a step. He's coming off a season in which he started 15 games for the Dolphins last season and led the team's defensive linemen with 46 tackles. His role is reduced in Denver, entering the game primarily in long-yardage situations and nickel packages. That's just fine with Holliday - he still plays a big part in bolstering a defense that's been bullied around the past two season. This isn't that unit any longer. "The great thing about this team and this defense is knowing your role and doing your job," Holliday said as the Broncos are off to a 5-0 start for the first time since 1998. "Right now, my job is to come in and back those guys up and not let there be any drop-off." He's also taken on a leadership role, providing a veteran voice in the locker room. Is that why the Broncos brought him on board? "Nah, that isn't the reason," McDaniels said. "I mean, we love that part of it. We want all of our players to have the same type of leadership qualities that Vonnie Holliday does. But we knew that Vonnie Holliday could still be an active, productive player in our scheme." As for all the advice he received when contemplating his choices, Holliday said he's glad he tuned it out. "I've been fortunate, no doubt about it," he said.