Broncos starters close to returning to lineup |

Broncos starters close to returning to lineup

Jeff Legwold
Rocky Mountain News
Aspen, CO Colorado

ENGLEWOOD ” When the bumps become bruises in the NFL, when the aches get promoted to pains, you can want to play.

You can even need to play.

But being ready to play, that’s a whole other deal.

“There is a difference,” Broncos defensive end Elvis Dumervil said. “You can be out there, but you’re just not right. Whether you’re injured or young or whatever, sometimes you think and believe you’re ready. But you’re not.

“But you play because there are only so many games, and you have to win them.”

And as the Broncos (8-5) continue on what at times has been a roller-coaster quest of the AFC West title, they seemingly have spent much of the season trying to gauge who is ready to play and who is not.

They have tried to look at injured players to gauge their health, tried to look at younger players to gauge their chances to succeed. And in many cases, one has led to the other.

“I know when I went down, they looked at Josh [Bell],” cornerback Champ Bailey said. “He’s a rookie, hasn’t played that much, but they saw his confidence, I think. That he worked in practice and always kept his head up, no matter what.

“So they put him in there. He showed he was ready for the chance. That’s why we’re where we are right now because those young guys have stepped in all over and given us everything they have.”

Bailey, who has missed six games because of a groin injury he suffered against New England, has wrestled with being ready to play in the past few weeks when he has tried to practice.

Having missed only three games in his previous nine seasons combined, Bailey has called himself “close”to playing much of the past two weeks and at one point last week, vowed he would play Sunday against the Chiefs.

But in the end, the threat of making a difficult injury worse, of losing more weeks to injury than have already passed, won out. Bailey was on the sideline, in street clothes.

“I want to play, it’s killing me to be out,” Bailey said. “But you have to be smart, too. If I go out there and make it worse, that doesn’t help me or anybody.”

Linebacker D.J. Williams quickly grimaces when asked about his potential return from a severe knee sprain that has kept him out of the past five games, saying, “It’s out of my hands. All I can do is just keep rehabbing and doing the things I’m supposed to. But I want to play.”

So, whether it be a player trying to recover from injury or a rookie trying to secure some playing time, the story is told in the practice video, which is shot every day from high atop lifts positioned next to the practice fields.

Coach Mike Shanahan and his assistants watch video each day, and in the case of an injured player, Friday’s video often tips the scales one way or another when decisions about the 45-man game-day roster are made.

“You can tell by how a guy moves, especially if he’s been here a while, if he’s going to be able to go,” Shanahan said. “You go with your gut, too. You don’t want somebody to hurt themselves more, and you don’t want them to go in for a few plays and they come out and can’t finish. You need those spots.

“But guys can’t hide. You can tell if they’re ready or not.”

There also is the matter of conditioning. Injured players, or players signed after being out of the league for even a few weeks, such as running back Tatum Bell, have a conditioning curve.

Shanahan said it’s asking for more trouble to toss them back in the lineup without sufficient time.

“It takes time to get back in football shape. …” Shanahan said. “If you’ve been out, even for a couple weeks, you can’t just go back out there. You have to be ready to be back out there.”

“It’s different,” defensive end Ebenezer Ekuban said. “When I was out last season [because of a torn Achilles’ tendon], you feel like you’re doing everything you can to get back and that you’re in great shape when it’s finally time to get back out there. But I put the pads on in training camp and started to hit and play, and it was like starting over. It took like a month before I felt like I was contributing something. It’s hard.

“So being ready to play sometimes takes time, and during the season, it’s different because you never feel like you have enough time.”

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