By Rich Kurtzman
This is probably the most important week of preparation the Broncos will go through all year. Denver’s already beaten division rival San Diego once this season; a comeback some are calling the best game of the NFL season, setting up this pivotal contest. Undoubtedly, the first matchup will be dissected by both teams to find out how to get an even better advantage on their opponent, and both teams can see what went well and wrong for each.
In that game, the Chargers were electric to start, running up a 24 point lead in the first half. The Broncos were bland and full of mistakes before the break, unable to do anything positive on offense while the defense allowed many easy scores. In the second half, it was Denver that was on fire, scoring 35 straight points—14 of which by the defense—while blanking San Diego at home and forcing six total turnovers. For the Broncos, it was a game that catapulted their season, as they’ve won four straight games and now have a bit of a stranglehold on the division, while San Diego has gone 1-2 since the loss in Week Six.
And as each team studies the film, they’re also out in the practice fields preparing physically, with Denver getting mixed good and bad news on Wednesday.
Right guard Chris Kuper returned to practice 10 days after severely spraining his left ankle against Cincinnati, though he could only compete in a limited amount of drills. Kuper’s expected to miss at least this week, but it was still a good sign for him to be out on the field with teammates. Manny Ramirez, who enjoyed a good game last Sunday in Carolina, is getting ready to start again this week against the Chargers.
Safety Jim Leonhard (calf) and defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson (thigh) were both full participants Wednesday—some more good news for the team—and each should be able to handle their normal workload this week. While Leonhard is a backup that contributes on special teams at times, Vickerson has 27 total tackles, one forced fumble and two sacks that each came against Cam Newton.
As for the bad news; neither Elvis Dumervil nor Tracy Porter was able to practice at all Wednesday. Porter, a fifth-year starting cornerback in his first season with Denver, can’t shake the mysterious seizure symptoms he’s dealt with since August. He’s been unable to participate in the last four games—going in and out of practice including some conditioning work Wednesday—and no one expects him to go this week, making him the wildcard when he is indeed able to play again. Second-year corners Tony Carter and Chris Harris just continue to play at high levels in his absence as well, as Carter scored his second touchdown last Sunday, on a pick-six while Harris led the team in total tackles with seven.
As for Dumervil, the dynamic defensive end will almost certainly miss this Sunday’s game as well. Dumervil, who rushes primarily from the left defensive end spot, is second on the Broncos with seven sacks. He’s a huge piece of Denver’s No. 1 defensive line in football, and while it was good news when it was revealed he didn’t tear anything in that left shoulder, the seventh-year stud could be sidelined an entire month. Robert Ayers will likely get the start in Dumervil’s stead, and even Ayers sacked Newton last week, with five tackles of his own.
Denver’s defense has been dominant ever since these two teams’ first meeting in San Diego, and the Broncos are hoping for a repeat of that six-turnovers faced performance this Sunday.
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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.