Domata Peko, former long-time nose tackle in Cincinnati, will suit up against the Bengals for the first time in his 12-year career. This will be strange to those who saw him play for the Bengals in 171 regular season games and six playoff games from 2006-2016.
After making a painful move to Denver, Peko still has nothing but “love and respect” for his former team.
“But now I am a Bronco, you know,” Peko told ABC’s Troy Renck. “So I’m going to go out there and do my job.”
He has been doing a great job with the Broncos so far this season, anchoring a line that is a part of one of the best defenses in the NFL. He’s only one tackle shy of matching his total from each of the last two years. While his production has increased since his departure, he clearly wanted to stay in Cincinnati this offseason.
“My time was up there and now I’m here...,” Peko said. “There’s a little bit of a chip on my shoulder because, you know, they had a chance to get me back there, but that’s just how the business works.”
There is no doubt that he will try to prove that he is “grateful to [John] Elway and the organization here for giving me a shot.”
Marvin Lewis knows the difference Peko can make.
“We know how hard he plays,” said the Bengals head coach. “He’s a great guy out there on Sundays for you — a warrior.”
Peko will have a chance to help the Broncos get their fourth win of the season on Sunday when two 3-6 teams meet to try to turn their season around. Broncos head coach Vance Joseph is hoping to revive the Broncos the way that Peko has revived his career. Interestingly enough, Joseph was on the Bengals defensive staff as the team’s secondary coach when Peko hauled in his career high for sacks back in 2015.
“I knew he could help our run defense,” Joseph said of Peko, per Geoff Hobson “He’s a smart player, a stout player versus double teams. To acquire someone like Domata was a special deal for me. He’s played really well. He’s helped fix our run defense.”
Joseph’s sphere of influence not only extends to Peko, but to current players in the Bengals’ secondary.
CJ’s Rebecca Toback spoke with spoke with Dre Kirkpatrick in 2015 when Joseph was the Bengals’ secondary coach. Kirkpatrick only had positive things to say about his position coach.
“He's had a great impact,” Kirkpatrick said. “He's a great teacher, very patient, always puts us in the best position setting us up for success.”
The Broncos recognized Joseph’s success with the Bengals’ secondary early on, wanting him to coach their lights-out secondary and defense as their coordinator in 2015. The Bengals blocked that move and Joseph would remain on the staff for another season, but the Broncos would get him eventually. After spending 2016 as the Dolphins’ defensive coordinator, the Broncos added him to their staff as head coach over the 2017 offseason.
Kirkpatrick, now a starter for the Bengals, felt the positive impact of Joseph’s coaching while he was in Cincinnati.
“He pretty much helped me understand how to break down film so much better and more efficiently," Kirkpatrick said. "It helps in such a big way to learn better off-the-field studying, which makes the game easier on the field."
In 2014, Joseph had the opportunity to draft and work with Darqueze Dennard. He will get to see a more polished product of his former player on Sunday, but he likes what he has seen on film.
“He’s playing under control. He understands his leverage. He understands the defense,” Joseph said regarding Dennard. “He’s playing with a high football IQ. He looks like a veteran player out there. That was actually fun to see. To be a great nickel in this league, it comes with time. Obviously he’s putting the time in and he has definitely grown.”
He also was instrumental in the development of another mainstay in the secondary: Josh Shaw. This season, Shaw has played all over the secondary due to injuries to other players, but Joseph saw this coming when he was part of the Bengals’ organization that drafted Shaw in 2015.
“He's going to be a corner with the ability to play nickel; that's a huge thing for us,” he accurately stated back in 2015. “And obviously in a pinch he could play safety... He's playing all three positions and he's a very, very, very smart guy. So that's exciting for me.”
Joseph will be even more excited if he can end the Broncos’ five-game skid against his former team. After going 3-1 to start the season, Peko and Joseph are hoping that they will be able to find a win against their old team after losing five straight.
The Bengals are in the same boat, hoping to improve to 4-6 after this week. Dennard and Shaw will hope to remind Joseph why the Bengals drafted them by handing their former position coach a loss with his new team.