Report: Broncos' Ayers out 6 weeks, Dawkins 2 to 3 weeks

The beatdown at Baltimore became even worse one day later, with word Monday that the Denver Broncos will be without five key players, including three members of their secondary, when the New York Jets visit Invesco Field next weekend.

Broncos coach Josh McDaniels already has ruled out safeties Brian Dawkins (knee) and Darcel McBath (ankle) and cornerback Andre' Goodman (thigh), along with pass rusher Robert Ayers (leg) and special-teams captain Wesley Woodyard (hamstring) for next Sunday's game.

McDaniels declined to discuss the severity of any of the injuries or the timetable for any player's return, although the unusual nature of ruling them out so early could forecast long recoveries for at least some of them.

On Tuesday, *The Denver Post* reported that Ayers will miss approximately six weeks with a broken foot. Ayers' agent, Tony Agnone, didn't immediately return a phone message from The Associated Press.

The Post also reported that Dawkins suffered a strained knee ligament and will be out two to three weeks.

Ayers has been the Broncos' best pass rusher after Elvis Dumervil, who led the NFL with 17 sacks last season, tore a chest muscle during training camp, ending his season.

Ayers' absence leaves just Jason Hunter and Jarvis Moss at the pass-rush position. One solution could be moving the versatile Mario Haggan back outside with Joe Mays replacing him at inside linebacker next to D.J. Williams. Haggan played all of last season on the outside.

Safety depth also is a major issue in Denver.

McBath is Dawkins' backup, and he also plays in the nickel. It would appear either David Bruton or Nate Jones would start next to Renaldo Hill next week. The Broncos also might promote Kyle McCarthy, a rookie from Notre Dame, from their practice squad.

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"Whoever they put up there, we know he's going to do their job, and we've all got to roll with the play," said Bruton, who lost half of his front left tooth while covering a punt Sunday.

Bruton said he'll be ready to go if his number is called.

"Yeah, all I have is a tooth. Nothing but a toothache," Bruton said as he packed up and headed back to the dentist office for a root canal several hours after having his tooth capped.

"I didn't want to go around like a hockey player," said Bruton, who vowed to wear a mouthpiece from now on.

Already, the Broncos have needed to use rookie cornerback Perrish Cox a lot in place of Goodman.

It seems like the only breaks the Broncos are catching this season are bad ones.

"Yeah, it's tough. But it's part of this league," said Moss, who broke his left hand during camp shortly after Dumervil was hurt. "I've said it many times before: This isn't a place for anybody soft or weak or ... to start feeling sorry for yourself if things don't go your way."

The latest rash of injuries throws another wrench into the situation for a Denver team that's searching for ways not to be manhandled so much at the line of scrimmage.

"Certainly the injuries don't make it easy, but we've been dealing with that for a long time now, and I think the next guy has got to step up and play well," McDaniels said. "We've got to give them a good game plan. We might have to be creative with a few things that we do. But that's part of everybody's season.

"Every team has to go through roster decisions and make their minds up on how to make up for players that can't play. and that's where we're at right now."

McDaniels suggested the Broncos' troubles go beyond the physical. He said his team wasn't as mentally tough as it needed to be in Baltimore once it fell behind.

"In order to be physically tough, I think you first have to be mentally tough," McDaniels said.

The Broncos (2-3) were outrushed, 233-39, by the Ravens on Sunday, leaving them bruised, battered and beaten after their 31-17 loss at Baltimore -- the kind of smackdown that McDaniels believed was a thing of the past when he retooled his offensive and defensive lines during the offseason to add bulk.

Top draft pick Demaryius Thomas also underwent further evaluation on his head and neck Monday after being knocked from the game on a kickoff return.

"He wasn't on the 'out' list, so we'll see how it goes," said McDaniels, who suggested that the rookie wide receiver would try to practice later in the week.

Thomas, a 6-foot-3, 229-pound wide receiver, fumbled the ball away on the play in which linebackers Jason Phillips (low) and Edgar Jones (high) sandwiched him after he brought out a kickoff from deep in his end zone.

Three weeks ago, Cox was removed from return duties after flubbing a punt return that led to a touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts. Thomas debuted as a kickoff returner two weeks ago, his first such duty since high school, and he has averaged 33 yards on five runbacks.

Although the sure-handed Eddie Royal might be pressed into being the Broncos' full-time returner this weekend, McDaniels wasn't ready to strip kickoff-return duties from Thomas once he's healthy.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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