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Broncos switch roles to deal with depth-sapping injuries

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Mario Haggan wore an orange no-contact jersey to protect his injured neck. David Bruton was still feeling queasy after a visit to the dentist for a root canal after shattering one of his front teeth covering a punt at Baltimore.

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And these are the healthy ones.

The Denver Broncos (2-3) are running out of players in both of their backfields and at linebacker.

Safeties Brian Dawkins and Darcel McBath have been ruled out of Sunday's game against the New York Jets (4-1), along with cornerback Andre' Goodman and linebackers Robert Ayers and Wesley Woodyard.

Bruton is the projected starter at safety opposite Renaldo Hill, although nickel back Nate Jones also is an option.

"Nobody wishes for them (injuries), but we play a violent game," Bruton said. "Injuries happen: ankle, shoulder, knee, foot, tooth."

The Broncos' only healthy tailbacks on the practice field Wednesday were Correll Buckhalter and Laurence Maroney. Held out were injury-prone Knowshon Moreno (left hamstring), who has sat out the last three games after missing all of training camp with a pulled right hamstring, and Andre Brown (ill).

Inside linebacker Haggan was preparing to move back outside, with Joe Mays replacing him, because Ayers' broken foot leaves the Broncos incredibly thin at the pass-rushing position.

"I feel comfortable, given enough reps, that I can get back to a good form, that I can help this team," Haggan said. "I promise you it won't be a problem on Sunday."

Jones said he's equally comfortable moving from nickel cornerback to safety.

"It's not difficult if you prepare for it during the week," Jones said. "We're all D-backs. We're all in the same meeting room. It can be mentally taxing, but every week I go into a game, study what I got, and I keep the left eye on one and the right eye on the other."

Broncos coach Josh McDaniels made the unusual move of announcing Monday that five defensive players would miss the upcoming game.

The groundwork for a ready-made excuse should they be steamrolled by the Jets, like they did by the Ravens last weekend? Perhaps.

But McDaniels insisted the Broncos aren't conceding anything and that the mood around team headquarters wasn't one of doom and gloom.

"No, not at all. We're ready to go," he said. "This is just part of the season."

The Broncos had used Dawkins, McBath and Woodyard to contain tight ends with great success this season, but with the three of them sidelined, Dustin Keller could be in for a big day Sunday.

Elvis Dumervil, the league's reigning sack champion, is out for the season with a torn chest muscle. With Ayers sidelined for at least six weeks, and maybe longer, the only outside linebackers remaining on the roster are Jason Hunter and Jarvis Moss.

Hunter has one sack this season, and Moss hasn't recorded one since 2008.

McDaniels' only card, it seems, is in keeping the Jets guessing, although with the way they're playing, it might not matter which Broncos line up on defense or where they play.

Asked what he expects out of Moss and Bruton, McDaniels demurred.

"I'm not going to say exactly who's playing where and how we're going to adjust some of the things that we're doing," he said. "But those two players are going to be asked to do some different things this week, and we expect them to be ready to go. There's some potential for some other players to factor in. Nate Jones has played some safety, also. We've moved Haggan before. I'm not opposed to doing that.

"But there's some different things we have in terms of options, and we're going to take a look at them this week in practice and try to make the best decision by Sunday."

It appears the Broncos also might keep shuffling their offensive line, which has been a turnstile with five different lineups so far. Last week, left guard Stanley Daniels was replaced by Russ Hochstein.

McDaniels praised the veteran Hochstein's calming influence, but he wouldn't commit to starting him against the Jets.

"He'll be out there practicing at left guard," McDaniels said. "We're going to have some other guys practicing there, too, and just make sure we put the best five guys out there that we can this week."

Top draft pick Demaryius Thomas, the Broncos' biggest receiver and kickoff returner, was held out of practice Wednesday after suffering a concussion against the Ravens.

All the shuffling makes for plenty of uncertainty at Dove Valley this week.

"In my personal opinion, it makes the game fun," Jones said. "It tries your discipline, it tries your heart. It tests where you're at as a team."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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