Versatile Wilkinson shearing locks, protecting Drew Lock

NFL

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP)Protecting Drew Lock is Elijah Wilkinson ‘s job. Shearing locks is his side gig.

The Denver Broncos tackle opened a barbershop in Denver last year while still laying the foundation of a budding NFL career.

Wilkinson said he didn’t want to just be known as a football player but ”as someone who started something, somebody who gives back to this community.”

Wilkinson employs two barbers and a hair stylist and has a manager running the shop. He spent much of the offseason on site because of a split with his business partner, and he still drops by the shop on his off days from the Broncos.

After the shop closed during the coronavirus quarantine, business has picked up, Wilkinson said, ”so things are going great.”

Now, it’s time for him to focus on football, not foot traffic.

Wilkinson had an ankle operation in the offseason, a procedure that was delayed by the COVID-19 crisis when elective surgeries were put on hold.

He went on the PUP list when he reported to camp but was quickly activated when right tackle Ja’Wuan James opted out of the 2020 season.

The Broncos had wanted to see if Wilkinson could unseat former first-round pick Garett Bollesat left tackle, but when James opted out, they moved Wilkinson back to right tackle, where he started a dozen times last season.

That didn’t faze Wilkinson, who noted the last three years he’s ”cross-trained to do any position on the offensive line besides center.”

”It was a shock definitely. But it was like, `OK, right tackle now, let’s go!’ It wasn’t, `Oh, wow, right tackle, you’ve got to figure out some new things,`” Wilkinson said.

Wilkinson still looks like he’s working his way back to full strength, getting beat on pass rushes at camp, but he’s continuing to work with the starters, ahead of recently signed 11-year veteran Demar Dotson.

Wilkinson sees Dotson’s addition not as a safety net in case he falters but as a chance to learn from a veteran.

”I’m taking in everything that he has to offer because he’s been out there doing it for 11 years,” Wilkinson said. ”I’m only in my fourth year here, so anything helps.”

Wilkinson didn’t finish Friday’s practice after getting tangled with pass rusher Malik Reed and turning an ankle. ”Everything’s fine,” Wilkinson said. ”We got tangled up a little bit but everything’s cool.”

NO FANS

The Broncos announced that because of the coronavirus, no fans will be allowed into their stadium for their Monday night opener on Sept. 14 against Tennessee.

The team will assess how things go that night and the Broncos hope some fans will be allowed into Empower Field for Denver’s game two weeks later against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

”It’s disappointing,” coach Vic Fangio said. ”I watch a lot of sports, even golf, and baseball. And it’s just not the same without the fans there.”

”It’s definitely a bummer to me,” Wilkinson said. ”That gets me amped. I love coming to Mile High and it’s 70,000 strong, loud, especially when the defense is on the field. There’s nothing like it.”

The empty stands will force teams to further disguise audible calls because their opponents will be able to hear them without the din of the crowd drowning them out.

”It’s definitely going to be a little different but it is what it is,” Wilkinson said. ”It’s the times that we’re in and it’s something that we have to deal with until things get better with our nation.”

Notes: Fangio said ILB Todd Davis’ calf injury isn’t as serious as the one he had last year that sidelined him for two months. He said Davis could be out a week. Josey Jewell replaced him in the first string defense Friday … Von Miller (elbow) and Melvin Gordon (ribs) were held out and are day-to-day. … Lock again found rookie TE and fellow Missouri alum Albert Okwuegbunam for a TD in the red zone drills.

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