Football is physical.
Football is tough.
Football is brutal on the body.
Yet, through a month of training camp and four preseason games, the Broncos are nearly unscathed. They enter Week 1 the healthiest anyone can remember in recent years. It’s not only a sign of a strong team, but of a well managed preseason by Coach John Fox and crew to ensure players were getting the rest they needed.
Heading into their Sunday Night Football battle against the substantially physical Steelers, the Broncos have only one injury to report.
Starting right guard Chris Kuper will not play this week—or for weeks to come—due to his broken right forearm.
Kuper fractured the forearm on August 14 and won’t be able to play until Week 3 or 4 at the earliest.
The seven-year veteran is Denver’s most experienced offensive lineman, and Kuper was recently named one of the Broncos’ five captains, despite his injury. He’s certainly one of the most important members of the offensive line, an anchor and mentor for the many younger members that make up Denver’s strong-blocking unit.
In Kuper’s absence, sixth-year guard/center Manny Ramirez is starting. Ramirez started 12 games for the Detroit Lions in 2009 before coming to Denver and becoming a backup, so he understands what it takes to be a starting guard in the NFL.
The Broncos offense shouldn’t struggle too much, even with the NFL’s best defense in the Steelers coming to town Sunday night.
Pittsburgh isn’t as lucky, with many key members suffering though impactful injuries.
Star linebacker—and possibly hardest hitter on the Steelers—James Harrison, practiced Wednesday but has been declared out of Sunday’s game according to Pro Football Talk. Harrison has been fined multiple times in recent years for hitting opponents that were defenseless or by leading with his head.
Harrison strikes fear in nearly every opponent, and the Broncos can rest assured fragile quarterback Peyton Manning will not be knocked out of the game due to a hit from the all-star linebacker.
Offensive guard David DeCastro hasn’t practiced all week due to a bum knee, and he won’t play Sunday either.
Nor will inside linebacker Stevenson Sylvester, who’s battling a knee injury of his own.
Starting running back Rashard Mendenhall, who tore his ACL in December, has been a full participant in practice this week, though he’s listed as doubtful on the Steelers’ official injury report. Mendenhall is a stellar running back, able to push up the middle for tough yards, and run around the end, past would-be tacklers.
Also, starting safety Ryan Clark—who struggles from sickle cell anemia—won’t even make the trip to Denver because the altitude affects him so much.
Missing Clark and Harrison are big blows to the Pittsburgh defense and it’s certain that Manning will be planning to exploit their voids this week. It makes the Broncos’ blocking for Manning much easier without worrying about Harrison blitzing, and Clark’s backup Ryan Mundy will have his plate full trying to stop the deep attack.
If Mendenhall can’t play, it makes the Broncos defense’s job of stopping the run a simpler task, though Isaac Redman is quite a good runner in his own right.
Even with the Steeler operating at less than 100 percent, this is still a contest of NFL heavyweights and by no means will be an easy challenge for Denver.
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.