ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- His job might be to wade into the sea of large, well-conditioning humanity that is the line of scrimmage in your average NFL game and shove people around.
But that doesn't mean Domata Peko can't smile for most every moment he's getting ready to do that job or that he can't end a short question-and-answer session with a signature "much love, everybody." In what has become a season of struggles for the Denver Broncos, Peko has shown himself to be one of the team's best signings in free agency this past offseason.
After 11 seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, Peko was not re-signed by the team. The Broncos wanted an unwavering presence in the middle of the defensive line, and it was, and is, a match made in grass stains.
On Sunday, Peko gets to play in his who-was-right game as the Bengals face the Broncos in Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
"I've got nothing but respect for the Bengals ... have got nothing but love and respect for them," Peko said after Wednesday's practice. "I'm going to go out there and do my job. ... My time was up there, now I'm here. It is a little bit of a chip on my shoulder because they had a chance to get me back there, it's just the way the business works.
"I'm excited to get a chance to go against your old team," Peko continued. "Just like Ron Leary played Dallas [in Week 2], he really wanted to get after them, really wanted to get a W, so it means a lot to me, it means a lot to my family and I'm excited for the opportunity to play against my old team."
It's hard to believe Peko would've created hard feelings with anybody he's crossed paths with, at least outside of the assorted blockers he's wrestled on game days -- Leary, the guard who's also been a standout free-agent pickup, has said Peko "just never stops" -- so his departure from the Bengals was likely more about age (he'll be 33 later this month) and finances than anything else. And Wednesday, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, who made the call to let Peko go, was more than happy to praise Peko for his work over the Broncos' first nine games.
"I think Domata has done a good job for them," Lewis said. "I really think he's done a nice job of being on his feet, staying strong in the middle and playing the blocks and combinations each week. ... We know how hard he plays. He's a great guy out there on Sundays for you, a warrior."
Peko, in his 12th season, has been uncommonly durable for a player who has been in so many collisions at the point of attack. He has the longest active streak of any NFL defensive lineman with 121 consecutive starts, including nine this season; the Broncos (3-6) usually hold him out of Wednesday's practice each week as a rest day.
He's also played a little more than even the Broncos might have expected: His 310 snaps on defense -- 55.2 percent -- are the second among the linemen, trailing only Derek Wolfe. Peko's playing time has even increased over the past four games as opposing offenses have kept the Broncos in the base defense more often.
He played a season-high 48 snaps in Sunday night's 41-16 loss to the New England Patriots.
"There's always a reason they didn't want to sign you or let you go; I'm just grateful I came out here and continue to play at a high level," Peko said "I'm not going to slow down for anybody; I'm going to keep going hard, keep doing what I've been doing.
"I feel like [the Broncos] are using me more to my strengths," Peko added. "I'm a bigger dude, 320 pounds, but I'm not just going to sit there. I can run around, that's what they're letting me do here. I'm not just sitting on blocks and holding offensive linemen down, just to get off blocks and be more attacking and I'm loving it."