Broncos face offensive uncertainties with injuries at OL, RB

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Denver Broncos coach Josh McDaniels set out to renovate his offensive line and rejuvenate his running backs corps this season.

An injury epidemic at Dove Valley has left both groups in a state of flux.

When the Broncos open their season Sunday at Jacksonville, they could feature three players on the offensive line taking their first NFL snaps while blocking for a backfield of backups.

"Nobody is going to put the season on hold for us until we get ready to go," McDaniels said Tuesday. "We'll try to practice as much as we can with the group that's going to play on Sunday."

If right tackle Ryan Harris' sprained left ankle doesn't heal fast enough, the Broncos' starting offensive line looks like it will include first-year pro Stanley Daniels, who has been cut four times, at left guard and rookies J.D. Walton at center and Zane Beadles at right tackle.

"Those are question marks to people outside the locker room, but not concerns for us," right guard Chris Kuper insisted. "We have confidence in everybody here."

Walton shrugged off the notion of having too many green guys getting their first taste of the NFL all at once. "You have to take your first snap sometime," he said.

Even the veteran O-line starters -- Kuper (ankle) and All-Pro left tackle Ryan Clady (knee) -- spent much of camp in the trainer's room. Clady returned to action last week, less than six months after blowing out his left knee.

Offensive coordinator Mike McCoy insisted he won't dial back anything Sunday.

"We've got a system in place that we're going to use and a style of offense that we're going to run regardless of who's in the game," he said.

If running back Knowshon Moreno isn't fully recovered from his right hamstring injury, which he sustained Aug. 1, Correll Buckhalter, who carried just three times in the preseason, could get the start.

Newcomer Andre Brown is down with turf toe, and Lance Ball was absent from the start of practice Tuesday for undisclosed reasons.

"I've got to get past that phase where I'm hesitant," Moreno said before practice. "What I've got to do now is test it out and see how it holds up. I'm not going to be hesitant. I'm going to go for it."

Moreno also missed most of last year's camp with a knee injury and never seemed to find a rhythm, although McDaniels has pinned the blame for the running back's short-yardage failures on the old offensive line.

Brown, who was awarded to the Broncos off waivers from the New York Giants, and tight end Dan Gronkowski, who was acquired from the Detroit Lions, practiced with their new teammates for the first time Tuesday.

"I consider myself a pretty intelligent guy, but it's going to take some time no matter what or no matter how smart you are," Gronkowski said after thumbing through the Broncos' playbook.

Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, the team's top draft pick, practiced Tuesday for just the second time since he injured his left foot during an Aug. 7 scrimmage. He said he's not sure when he'll be ready to play again.

Against this backdrop of uncertainty, Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Bad Moon Rising" was one of the songs that blared over the Broncos' practice field. Trouble could very well be on the way for the Broncos' patchwork offense in the form of the Jaguars' formidable front seven Sunday.

Notes: The Broncos signed DL Kevin Vickerson and released DL LeKevin Smith. Vickerson spent the last three seasons with the Tennessee Titans, then was traded to the Seattle Seahawks, who released him over the weekend. ... McDaniels said one of the toughest decisions he has had to make was putting NFL sacks leader Elvis Dumervil on season-ending injured reserve with a torn chest muscle, but that it was best for the veteran linebacker's career not to hold out hope of a return in 2010. ... Jason Hunter, signed Aug. 19, has won the starting outside linebacker job ahead of Jarvis Moss, although McDaniels said they'll rotate. ... McDaniels said the competition continues between Tim Tebow and Brady Quinn to be the No. 2 QB and a decision won't be made until Sunday "based on how we're going to play the game" and how they do at practice this week.

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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