ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Jordan Norwood’s season-ending knee injury jumbled the Denver Broncos’ search for Trindon Holliday’s replacement on punt returns and dented the team’s depth at wide receiver.
“I’m very disappointed for him and at this point for us, selfishly,” coach John Fox said. “Jordan Norwood worked very hard and had a very good opportunity to make this football team and make us better. I know he’s very disappointed just like we are. However, it’s next man up and we move on, adjust and give somebody else an opportunity.”
That man could be undrafted rookie Isaiah Burse, who was listed behind Wes Welker and Norwood on the first depth chart of the preseason.
Given his concussion history, Welker was expected to field punts whenever the Broncos were backed up deep or the game was close with Norwood taking the field whenever there was a chance to have a big return.
With Welker missing two days of joint practices with the Houston Texans this week for personal reasons, there’s a strong possibility Burse will get a long look Saturday night when the teams face each other in a preseason game.
Norwood tore his left ACL on Tuesday while trying to make a sideline catch in the end zone on a throw from Peyton Manning. Houston cornerback Brandon Harris jumped with him and broke up the play. Norwood landed awkwardly and was carted off the field.
He was taken for an MRI, which revealed a torn anterior cruciate ligament, ending his season and what was shaping up as one of the summer’s best comeback stories in the NFL.
The fifth-year pro who’s been cut five times by four teams and sat out all of last season signed a futures contract on New Year’s Eve.
He turned into one of the Broncos’ biggest surprises of the offseason, working his way into the receiver rotation and becoming Denver’s most consistent punt returner following the team’s decision to let Holliday leave in free agency.
Burse had a 20-yard punt return and caught a 34-yard TD pass from Brock Osweiler against Seattle in the preseason opener.
His first-team snaps increased after that and he caught a pass from Manning in Denver’s 34-0 win at San Francisco. He was second on the team behind Demaryius Thomas with 54 yards on four receptions in the preseason.
Burse, a burner from Fresno State, had a hard time holding onto the ball during special teams practices at training camp. Norwood’s injury gives Burse an opportunity to make a better second impression and keep the Broncos from scouring the waiver wire for a returner.
“I try not to think about it like oh, Jordan went down, so it’s my time,” Burse said. “No, I don’t think like that. Jordan’s a good dude. I had a good relationship with Jordan just because of his personality, not because he was a good athlete. He’s a good person and a dude that comes out here and works hard every day and I respect that about him and for that to happen to him, it stinks.
“But as for me, yeah, I’m the next one in line and I’ve got to step up.”
Burse amassed a school-record 5,873 all-purpose yards in four years at Fresno State. As a senior, he caught 99 passes for 1,026 yards and six TDs and returned two punts for scores.
A big return or two in the last two preseason games could burnish his resume.
“I’ve been dreaming since I was little just to break a long one and hear the crowd yell,” Burse said. “It’s always been a dream. But it’ll come. I’m not in a rush. … I’ll break one sooner or later.”
He might not have the luxury of waiting any longer to make a big impression, although he insists a big return isn’t necessary for him to make the team.
“I feel like it’s important but I feel like they know I can do that,” Burse said. “And what I think about doing is just taking care of the ball. The returns will come but if the offense is on the field the next play you did your job. That’s how I look at it.
“Every special teams meeting Coach (Jeff) Rodgers starts off the meeting saying, ‘Hey, Burse, what’s the most important thing in our return game?’ Just get the ball back to our offense.”
By ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Pro Football Writer
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