ENGLEWOOD—It would be hard to believe Richie Incognito allowed Domata Peko’s hair to pass without a yank.
Cleveland Browns center Cameron Erving might have found those long frayed locks were there to be pulled.
Seattle had a couple roughneck guards a couple years ago in J.R. Sweezy and Justin Britt who might have found a quick tug on Peko’s hair to be irresistible.
“Probably happens all the time but in the heat of the battle you don’t really feel it,’’ Peko said during in an interview with 9News this week in the lobby of Denver Broncos’ headquarters. “Sometimes, it gets pulled here and there but nothing major.’’
Peko is the Samson of the NFL. After he spent 11 seasons in Cincinnati, Bengal fans may have looked at him only as a dynamic nose tackle. He’s not there, yet, with those who follow the Denver Broncos.
It’s the Broncos who now have that big guy with all that hair.
“I wear my hair long because I’m Samoan,’’ said Peko, who was born in Los Angeles, but grew up in Pago Pago, American Samoa. “A lot of our countrymen wear it like that. (Former Pittsburgh safety Troy) Polamalu, guys like that. But also back home a lot of the men wear long hair from back in the day when they were warriors, that warrior mentality, so that’s why I wear it.’’
More importantly, the Broncos believe Peko is a run-stuffing upgrade to Sylvester Williams at the point of attack. Williams was good enough to start 3 1/2 years in the middle of the Denver defense and then receive a three-year contract from the Tennessee Titans.
But the Broncos’ finished 28th in stopping the run last season. Peko, 32, can rush the passer, too, as he had a career-best 5.0 sacks as recently as 2015. He had none last year, though.
“It was a different year. I had more tackles than I had the year before but not as many sacks,’’ he said, and, indeed, he had 37 tackles in 2016, two more than in ’15. “We had a new D-line coach and we worked on different techniques, but I hate to say that. I just need to get better. Need to improve.’’
Selected in the fourth round out of Michigan State in 2006, Peko played in 60 consecutive games, counting one postseason game, to start his career, missed the final six of 2009 with an ankle injury, then played in another 117 in a row, counting the playoffs, entering free agency.
He signed a two-year, $7.5 million contract with the Broncos with his playing streak intact.
“He’s a big man that understands his job description,’’ said Broncos head coach Vance Joseph, who was the Bengals’ secondary coach in 2014-15. “He understands that it’s his job to hold the point between the center and the guard to keep our linebackers free. He understands that and he wants that job. He’s been good at it for a long time. He doesn’t miss practice and he doesn’t miss games. That is a talent.’’
Joseph is one reason why Peko decided to play for the Broncos instead of Minnesota, Philadelphia, San Francisco, who were also after him, or stick with Cincinnati. Winning a playoff game is another. The Bengals went 0-7 in the playoffs during Peko’s career. The Broncos in that span won six postseason games, including two AFC Championships and one Super Bowl.
“The organization here is always a contender,’’ Peko said. “I want to win. I’m here for a reason, to come in here and help out the defense in the trenches there in the middle. I felt like this was the best opportunity for me to pursue a ring and to have fun while I’m doing it.”