By Rich Kurtzman
With the Broncos getting ready for their massive matchup against the New England Patriots, they’re getting closer to full strength.
All 53 men on the active roster were present at practice Wednesday, including tight end Virgil Green, who sat out the first four games of the season due to a suspension stemming from the use of performance enhancing drugs. Green, who was the starting tight end last season, isn’t guaranteed to get on the field this year because the Broncos signed Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen in the offseason to play the position. Still, Green will add depth to Denver’s roster, something that can’t be overvalued as the season drags on.
Chris Kuper was again back at practice, but in a limited capacity. Kuper, a team captain and arguably the Broncos’ best offensive lineman, is still working to get back to 100 percent after fracturing his forearm August 14 in practice. Following practice, head coach John Fox told media members in attendance that Kuper is still a “game-time decision” to play against the Pats in New England this Sunday afternoon. It would be a big boost for the Broncos to get Kuper back-to-back, certainly. His backup, Manny Ramirez, has played OK but not great, allowing two of the team’s eight sacks through four games. And with starting center J.D. Walton placed on the Injured Reserve due to a broken ankle suffered against the Raiders, and Dan Koppen is now in his place. Forty percent of the Broncos’ offensive line are backups, making it even better if Kuper can play against New England this week.
Also limited today was linebacker Nate Irving, who is trying to come back from a concussion he sustained against the Houston Texans. Irving was blocked in the back and into a Houston player, which resulted in his severe concussion, and Broncos’ team doctors are being cautious about when they should bring the backup back.
Luckily for Denver, middle linebacker Joe Mays, who was suspended one game for his incredibly hard hit on Matt Schaub, returned as well. Last week, the Broncos started 15-year veteran Keith Brooking at the “Mike” linebacker spot in place of Mays, and Brooking played decently despite his advanced age.
The linebackers will be a unit of importance against the Patriots’ profound passing attack that features their two tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Last January, Gronkowski couldn’t be stopped through the air while Hernandez lined up in the backfield and ran all over Denver’s defense, and the Patriots blew out the Broncos in the AFC Divisional round on their way to representing the AFC West in the Super Bowl. Bigger than that though, New England even possesses a robust rushing attack this season, with Stevan Ridley running tough. Ridley’s run for 339 yards and three touchdowns in four weeks, and those linebackers need to key in on slowing him down, as well as the top-tier tight ends.
There will also be much time preparing for Tom Brady, arguably the greatest quarterback in the league today. For 11-time Pro Bowler Champ Bailey, this will be far from his first attempt at slowing down Brady and his receivers, while new Bronco Tracy Porter will get his first shot Sunday.
Following practice, Fox gave credit to not only Brady, but the Patriots as a whole. “Obviously, they’re a great football team, maybe the best in a short period of time in NFL history,” Fox said in the Denver Post. “We’re going to their place, you have a huge challenge. They’re well coached, they’re an outstanding football team and they have a quarterback that I know is going to do everything in his power to get his team ready to play. We expect a huge test.”
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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.