By Rich Kurtzman
When the Broncos and Chargers meet on the football field at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, the AFC West division lead will be on the line.
Monday night is setting up to be a massive matchup between the two divisional foes, and while both teams are banged up, the Broncos are more healthy overall.
There are nine players showing up on Denver’s injury report this week, each and every one of them is listed as probable.
That includes Chris Kuper, the seven-year veteran and team captain that plays the right guard position on the Broncos’ offensive line. Kuper has taken longer than originally expected to recover from the fractured forearm he broke in mid-August and Manny Ramirez has struggled in his place. Ramirez has been run over by opposing defensive tackles, sacking Peyton Manning and blowing up running plays for losses of yards. Kuper is expected to finally make his 2012 debut, and if he does play, it will improve both run and pass-blocking for the Broncos.
Linebacker Keith Brooking, who sustained a concussion last week, seems unlikely to play this Monday even though he was a full participant Friday and Saturday. Starting left tackle Ryan Clady was too, though he was forced to a limited role on Thursday. Clady is one player the Broncos’ offensive line can’t miss, as he’s their second-best player behind Kuper.
Demaryius Thomas, who has become the Broncos’ No. 1 receiving threat, has a hurt hip which could limit his speed and explosiveness a bit. It remains to be seen how injured it really is and how close to 100 percent DT will be. He’s important as the biggest play threat on the team and his size makes him nearly unstoppable.
Backup running back Lance Ball is set to carry the load behind veteran Willis McGahee again, while Matt Willis should be able to provide depth at the receiver position. And fullback Chris Gronkowski should be a go with his bruised thigh. Also, nickleback Tony Carter and sixth secondary man Tony Carter should be available to play as well.
Overall, the Broncos are incredibly healthy considering it’s Week Six of the NFL season. The Chargers aren’t so lucky.
Kicker Nate Kaeding, one of the most consistent at his position, has a bad right groin and has been listed as out. So, Nick Novak, a five-year veteran, will handle all the kicking duties Monday. He’s currently 4-5 on field goals and 7-7 on extra points in the last two weeks.
Also with a groin injury is left tackle Jared Gaither, who hasn’t been able to practice all week and is listed as doubtful. Gaither, who is a top-notch tackle, would have had his hands full with Von Miller already, but if San Diego doesn’t have their starting tackle Miller could enjoy a career day.
A major concern for the Chargers should be their playmaking wide receivers Malcom Floyd and Eddie Royal, who are both listed as questionable. Floyd, another sufferer of a groin injury, has become San Diego’s top receiver and their offense can’t afford to miss him. Ex-Bronco Royal is modestly producing, but he makes plays both as a wideout and return man.
And finally, starting running back Ryan Matthews is expected to play, as is the Chargers’ other starting tackle Jeromey Clary, who are each vital pieces to the team’s offensive puzzle.
Running Back Lance Ball (ankle)
Linebacker Keith Brooking (concussion)
Cornerback Tony Carter (illness)
Tackle Ryan Clady (hamstring)
Fullback Chris Gronkowski (thigh)
Nickelback Chris Harris (ankle)
Guard Chris Kuper (forearm)
Wide Receiver Demaryius Thomas (hip)
Wide Receiver Matt Willis (not injury related)
Tackle Jeromey Clary (foot)
Running Back Ryan Matthews (ankle)
Wide Receiver Malcom Floyd (groin)
Wide Receiver Eddie Royal (hamstring)
Tackle Jared Gaither (groin)
Cornerback Shareece Wright (foot)
Kicker Nate Kaeding (groin)
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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.