ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Amid all the handwringing over their meltdown against the New York Giants, the Denver Broncos got a booster shot Wednesday when outside linebacker Shane Ray and rookie tight end Jake Butt participated in practice.
It was Ray’s first practice since he broke his left wrist in late July, and Butt’s first chance to take snaps with the starters since being drafted in April while recovering from knee surgery.
“Felt great,” Butt said as he hurried off to watch the film.
The star at Michigan slipped from a projected first-round draft pick to the fifth round after tearing his right ACL in the Orange Bowl.
Butt is eligible to be activated anytime over the next three weeks, although coach Vance Joseph said it’s unlikely he’ll play Sunday when the Broncos (3-2) visit the Los Angeles Chargers (2-4).
Ray isn’t eligible to return to the active roster until Oct. 30, and he said he’s going to need that time to get back into football shape and adjust to wearing a cast on his left arm, which still has two screws that won’t be removed until the offseason.
“At this point it’s just knocking off rust,” said Ray, adding “figuring out hand placement with this cast, that’s the trickiest thing.”
Ray said he was glad to see Butt, his training room partner for the last 2½ months, finally get his NFL career off the ground.
“He’s a tight end but he moves like a wide receiver,” Ray said. “He’s a Travis Kelce type of tight end as far as his body type and speed, how he uses his body. So, I’m excited for him to come out and get some reps, too.
“I was in treatment for 11 weeks and four days. He was in there for like 50 weeks. So, I can only imagine how excited he is to get back out there playing.”
The appearances by Ray and Butt mitigated the absences of about a dozen players from practice including injured receivers Emmanuel Sanders (ankle), Demaryius Thomas (calf), Cody Latimer (knee) and Isaiah McKenzie (ankle), right tackle Menelik Watson (calf) and inside linebacker Brandon Marshall (shoulder).
All but Latimer were casualties of their loss to the Giants.
Joseph said they had their best week of practice coming off their bye before getting sucker punched 23-10 by a team missing eight starters. Derek Wolfe swore the Broncos were energetic, enthusiastic and didn’t overlook the heavy underdogs.
So that begs the question: if they were so well-prepared and properly pumped, was it simply a wretched showing that defies explanation or was it an omen?
They’ll start to get answers Sunday as they embark on a three-game road stretch that could prove crucial to their aim of making the playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons.
“We take pride in coming back from tough days,” safety Will Parks said. “It’s just another adversity for us, another stepping stone for us to get better and for us to find ourselves as a team.”
MORE CHANGES: The Broncos are shuffling their offense and special teams this week after losing so many players, including backup O-lineman Billy Turner, who had surgery on his right hand Tuesday and went on IR.
Donald Stephenson and Allen Barbre practiced at right tackle Wednesday.
Wide receiver Hunter Sharp, a first-year pro from Utah State, was promoted from the practice squad to take Turner’s roster spot and will make his NFL debut Sunday at receiver and returner.
“For it to be in L.A. and I’m an L.A. native, it means 10 times more to me,” Sharp said.
The Broncos also added former Washington State slot receiver River Cracraft to their practice squad. The 6-foot, 200-pounder missed the final three games of his senior season after tearing an ACL.
ISSUES ALL AROUND: The Broncos have sputtered offensively since beating the Dallas Cowboys 42-17 in Week 2, scoring just one TD in each of their last three games.
“It’s pathetic right now,” said running back C.J. Anderson.
Denver’s defense is still No. 1 in the NFL but it was steamrollered by Giants backup running back Orleans Darkwa for a career-best 117 yards — six more than the Broncos allowed Marshawn Lynch, Ezekiel Elliott, Melvin Gordon and LeSean McCoy combined.
And they’ve forced just four turnovers as opponents aren’t dropping back to throw much, which makes it harder for cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. to get their hands on the football or for Von Miller to get his hands on the quarterback.
Brandon McManus is missing field goals left and right. After converting his first 50 career attempts under 40 yards, he’s shanked his last two, giving him five misses already, as many as he had all last season.
By ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Pro Football Writer
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