The third-year pro was put on injured reserve Wednesday with an injury to his right big toe that will require surgery and rehabilitation lasting well into the winter.
Harris dislocated his toe Nov. 1 at Baltimore and missed five games, the first four of them losses following Denver's surprising 6-0 start. He aggravated the injury in the first quarter of Sunday's game at Kansas City just 10 snaps into his return, and medical tests this week revealed bone and ligament damage.
Tyler Polumbus will replace Harris in the starting lineup as he did when his teammate first went down with the injury.
A third-round draft pick out of Notre Dame in 2007, Harris missed training camp and the first five games of his rookie season after undergoing back surgery. After playing in the final 11 games that year, he won the starting job last season and allowed just 2.5 sacks in 16 games.
Harris wasn't in the locker room Wednesday, and none of his offensive linemates wanted to answer questions about losing him for the season.
"No, he was fine. That had nothing to do with it," McDaniels said. "The previous injury was not, is not, the same injury. That has nothing to do with the new injury. So, you know, yeah, it's the same toe, but it's not the same injury to the toe. So it's kind of a fluke deal, and he was playing well until the time that it happened."
Polumbus, an undrafted player who grew up in Denver and played at the University of Colorado, has played OK in Harris' absences, although his whiff on San Diego Chargers linebacker Shaun Phillips led to a strip and sack of backup quarterback Chris Simms three weeks ago. Simms, who was starting with Kyle Orton out with a sprained ankle, was benched after just five pass attempts that day.
However, McDaniels said he has seen growth in Polumbus in recent weeks.
"I've seen a guy that has gained confidence because obviously in this league when you're playing in the games, that experience is more valuable than the experience that you gain in the offseason and all the rest of it," McDaniels said. "He knows what we're doing. He knows our system. He communicates well with the other players. He's playing beside good players, and we think that we have a guy that's getting better each week, and he'll have a big challenge ahead of him this week."
That only adds to the difficulty of Denver becoming the first team to beat Indianapolis this season. The Colts are shooting for their record-breaking 22nd consecutive regular-season win.
"Yeah, he's certainly a good player for us and brings toughness and a little nastiness to the line," Orton said. "So it's disappointing to hear about it. But Tyler will step in. He's played before and he's played well for us, and he's going to need to for the rest of the year."
In the six games that Harris finished, the Broncos allowed a total of nine sacks and topped 220 passing yards five times. In the six games that he missed or didn't finish, they gave up 14 sacks and passed for 220 or more yards only once.
Despite those numbers, Orton said he hasn't noticed a difference with Polumbus in the lineup lately and doesn't sense a big change in the play calls or protections, either.
"We've kind of gotten away from doing some empty (backfield) stuff, but I don't think that has to do with Tyler," Orton said. "I just think that has to do with where we're at as an offense, so I don't think we've done a whole lot to specifically help Tyler."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press