By Rich Kurtzman
While the Denver Broncos had three players unable to practice Wednesday in backups Matt Willis, Nate Irving and Quinton Carter, they did get back one very valuable piece of their offensive line picture in Chris Kuper.
Yes, Kuper was a limited participant in Wednesday’s practice, but just having him back on the field was big news for the Broncos.
Kuper, the most veteran offensive lineman and one of the team’s five captains, has been sitting on the sideline since snapping his right forearm in practice on Aug. 14. Kuper’s not necessarily a vocal leader, but just his presence and his understanding of the game give him an ability to lead by example.
In his stead has been career backup Manny Ramirez, who played well in Week 1, but gave up a sack against the Falcons and was completely whipped by J.J. Watt of the Texans last Sunday. He doesn’t have what it takes to be the starter, though he was a serviceable guard in a pinch.
Now the Broncos should be back up to full speed on their offensive line, despite many others being banged up.
Starting running back Willis McGahee was also a limited participant Wednesday, bringing into question his ability to give it a go this Sunday.
McGahee bruised his ribs in the loss to Houston last week, sitting out most of the second half as the Broncos’ running game ran itself into the ground. If he can’t go this week, it will be up to backups Lance Ball, Knowshon Moreno and Ronnie Hillman to carry the load.
Following practice though, all talks focused on the NFL’s replacement referees.
Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning told reporters, including the Denver Post’s Mike Klis, following practice, “Nothing different from what everybody else thought. I talked to (current Packers center and former teammate) Jeff Saturday. I told him I felt sick watching it. We know each other well. But sitting here 1-2, I don’t think the referees have cost us a game. I think we’ve cost ourselves a game. But yeah, I thought it was bad the way it ended.”
11-time Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey chimed in, “We need the real refs. I think everyone agrees with that.”
The replacement officials were arguably ruining the game of football as we know it.
Simply, the replacements weren’t up to speed physically or mentally—the speed of the game was just too fast for them, while they didn’t fully understand the complicated rule book—and they failed miserably at their jobs.
While the tipping point of the travesty that was the replacement officials calling the first three weeks of the season was the “Fail Mary” travesty in which Green Bay Packers safety M.D. Jennings appeared to intercept the hail mary attempt by Seattle Seahawks quarterback, only to have the play ruled a touchdown by Seahawks’ receiver Golden Tate.
There were a multitude of blown and missed calls throughout the first three weeks of the season, though, a list too long to mention here.
At the end of the day, it was making the NFL a laughingstock and the games a farce, while also putting player safety at risk.
Luckily for Manning, Bailey and Co. the regular referees—Ed Hochuli, Mike Carey and more—will be back this week, starting tonight with the Baltimore Ravens against the Cleveland Browns.
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Rich Kurtzman is a Denver native, Colorado State University alumnus, sports nerd, athletics enthusiast, and competition junkie. Currently writing for a multitude of websites while working on books, one on the history of the Denver Broncos and Mile High Stadium. Find more of Rich’s Denver Broncos pieces on Examiner.com.