ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- On the substantial list of players poised to play the last season of their contracts for the Denver Broncos in 2015, defensive end Malik Jackson is not the name that first comes to mind for many folks.
Not with the likes of linebackers Von Miller and Danny Trevathan and even backup quarterback Brock Osweiler on the doorstep of their contract seasons as well. But Jackson has been a gem of efficiency since he was a fifth-round pick in the 2012 draft.
“I just try to make something happen every time I get in," Jackson said. “Whatever scheme, wherever they have me lined up, I just want to make a play."
The Broncos are tinkering with Jackson’s role again as they move each of their defensive linemen across the front in their offseason workouts in search of the right combination in their new 3-4 scheme. But it’s clear Jackson will be in the mix at end, and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has considered moving Jackson into the middle of the three-man front, at nose tackle, in some pass-rush situations.
Jackson’s versatility, coupled with a higher ratio of impact plays with the playing time he has received, makes him a key piece.
Consider he has led the Broncos' defensive linemen in tackles in each of the last two seasons, despite having played 52.7 percent of the defensive snaps in 2014 and 52.3 percent of the defensive snaps in 2013. He was fourth on the team in tackles for loss last season and third in quarterback hits.
In 2013 -- before DeMarcus Ware’s arrival in free agency last year and with Miller having missed time due to a suspension to open the season and a knee injury to close it -- Jackson was second on the team in sacks and led the team in tackles for loss and hits on the quarterback.
“When I watched what they had done before, he jumps out at you sometimes," Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said. “... He produces when he’s in there. ... We’re going to get guys on the field who produce."
“I’m built for whichever scheme they put me in," Jackson said “... I think it’s just if you can play, you can play no matter what scheme you play in. I’m just trying to adapt and forget the things I learned three years in a row and learn the things they want us to do here."
Jackson, like many of the Broncos’ defensive linemen, believes his level of play will rise under new defensive line coach Bill Kollar, a respected longtime NFL assistant. Jackson has called Kollar "proven," and having gone through the offseason workouts thus far, Jackson said Kollar “demands respect and top effort."
Jackson will be one of the players the Broncos try to re-sign in executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway’s attempt to retain as many as many of his own draft picks as possible. If 2015 goes as the team expects for him, Jackson's combination of production, durability and upside will have the Broncos trying to carve out some salary-cap space to keep him.
Though he’s set to enter his fourth NFL season, Jackson just turned 25 in January and has not missed a game over the last two seasons after playing in 14 games as a rookie.
“I’m just worried about -- seriously -- just going out there and doing my part and making them give me as much as I feel like I deserve," Jackson said. “Right now, it’s not about the money, which would be nice, I’m not going to lie. But right now it’s about going out here and just trying to earn it. I’ve got one more year on my contract, so for me to sit there and be worried about a contract right now would be silly. I’ve still got to go a year. ... I’m just going to go out there and play ... and see what happens."