By Rich Kurtzman
Another long and grueling NFL season is coming close to closing; it’s taken a toll on players’ bodies.
When one looks at the Denver Broncos’ injury report this week, it becomes obvious just how physical a game football is. Denver’s 11 players listed marks a team-high for the season, and some of those injuries are quite serious.
Namely Chris Kuper, whose severely sprained ankle has left him too hobbled to practice, let alone compete in a game. Kuper’s season has been a rocky road full of boulders; even a man as big as a Mack truck has broken down. His personal long list of injuries began way back in training camp, when the starting right guard fractured his forearm in practice.
Kuper is such a valuable asset to the offense that he was named one of the team’s five captains despite knowing he wouldn’t be able to play for weeks. The seventh-year veteran was finally healed and played in Week Five, starting the next three games for his Broncos before spraining that ankle in Cincinnati. He returned to play against Kansas City and Tampa Bay, but another setback has him sidelined once again. Kuper is listed as “doubtful,” meaning he’ll almost certainly be sitting for a third straight week. To make matters worse, head coach John Fox said Friday that the 30-year old has been suffering from migraine headaches as of late as well.
The 6’4” 303 pound lineman is one of the best to play his position, illustrated by a key statistic. Of the five games Denver quarterback Peyton Manning went without being sacked, Kuper started four. Backup Manny Ramirez, who’s been filling in all season, takes his place again this Sunday, which isn’t the best news for Broncos fans. Ramirez looks lost at times, picking up the wrong blocks which allow free rushers in the Broncos’ backfield to man-handle Manning. However, he did execute a tremendous pull-block on a Denver rushing touchdown last week, a sign he may finally be getting up to speed.
Fullback Chris Gronkowski is listed as “questionable” with a sore hamstring that kept him out of practice Wednesday and he was a limited participant Thursday and Friday.
From there, the news gets much better for Broncos fans. All of the other nine players listed Friday are “probable,” meaning there’s a 75 percent chance they will play Sunday.
Safety Mike Adams (knee) is the most certain to go, as he played for Cleveland the last five years and wants to exact some revenge. Eric Decker (ankle), Knowshon Moreno (ribs) and Dan Koppen (knee) are too important to the Broncos offense to sit, and Matt Willis (knee) should be there for depth at receiver. Defensively, Wesley Woodyard (ankle) has been the heart and soul of the Denver defense by leading them in total tackles. He played last week, and will again this week, as should safety Jim Leonhard. Defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson was limited both Wednesday and Thursday, so his status could be a bit more up in the air than the others. Lastly, return specialist Trindon Holliday has been suffering with a hurt knee for a few weeks, but it hasn’t slowed him down, as he’s still showing great speed with the football in his hands.
Overall, it looks like the Broncos will be without only one starter, Chris Kuper, though his importance is not to be overlooked. The Broncos and Browns face off at Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium Sunday.
Kickoff is slated for 2:05 p.m. MT and the game can be seen on CBS.
Safety Mike Adams (knee)
Defensive Tackle Kevin Vickerson (groin)
Linebacker Wesley Woodyard (ankle)
Safety Jim Leonhard (ankle)
Wide Receiver Eric Decker (ankle)
Wide Receiver Matt Willis (knee)
Running Back Knowshon Moreno (ribs)
Center Dan Koppen (knee)
Kick Returner Trindon Holliday (knee)
Fullback Chris Gronkowski (hamstring)
Guard Chris Kuper (ankle)
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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.