ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — There was a time — like way back in mid-September — the Denver Broncos felt good about their depth.
Good enough that even as the injuries started to pile up, coach Vic Fangio professed hope: “I think we’ll be able to absorb it.”
In the wake of the season’s first loss Sunday, a disappointing, rather homely 23-7 affair with the Baltimore Ravens, the Broncos’ ability to “absorb” what has happened is being sternly tested.
As quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (concussion) and cornerback Pat Surtain II (chest) left Sunday’s loss, it meant the Broncos have had nine starters exit the field and not return to the game in which they were injured. Many of those, such as cornerback Ronald Darby (hamstring), wide receiver Jerry Jeudy (ankle), linebacker Josey Jewell (chest) and wide receiver KJ Hamler (knee) are on injured reserve.
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And that doesn’t include players who were not starters but a big part of the preseason plan. Players such as running back Mike Boone (thigh), who has not played in the first four games after suffering his injury in the joint practices with the Vikings in August, and cornerback Michael Ojemudia (hamstring), who was injured in the preseason win over the Seattle Seahawks.
“We always emphasize it and I emphasize it in the [defensive backs] room along with [safety] Kareem [Jackson], how important it is for everyone that’s on this team, whether you’re on a practice squad or not, we’re going to need you,” safety Justin Simmons said. “And it’s an unfortunate thing, injuries happen in this league. If you play the game, you have a 100% chance of possibly getting injured, and when guys are going down it’s the next man up. And it’s a chance to be able to make a name for yourself and put your film out there for all 32 teams to see.”
Suddenly the team’s injury report feels distinctly like 2020, when the Broncos finished a dismal 5-11 season with 14 players on injured reserve.
Bridgewater, who suffered a concussion on his last pass attempt of the first half Sunday, is currently in the league’s protocol and his availability for the Broncos’ next game at Pittsburgh on Sunday, and possibly beyond, is in question.
Fangio said Monday “the medical people are in charge” of Bridgewater’s progress through the concussion protocol and he must be clear five stages that range from “symptom-limited activity” all the way through “full football activity.”
Beyond Bridgewater, the Broncos have multiple players who started games at four positions — wide receiver, cornerback, offensive line and linebacker — dealing with injuries. Both starting guards — Dalton Risner and Graham Glasgow — were inactive Sunday and the Ravens’ defensive front feasted for much of the day.
Bridgewater was sacked twice and Drew Lock was sacked three times in the second half after replacing him.
“It’s not just the sacks, I don’t like seeing him get hit either,” Fangio said.
“I’m sure Teddy is going to work if he can and Drew’s going to take reps,” tight end Noah Fant said. “We’re comfortable with both of them, we’re going to go from there and try to get this win Sunday.”
It wasn’t all dismal news for the Broncos. Fangio said Monday that both receiver/returner Diontae Spencer and Surtain would “be day-to-day” this week and could return to the lineup as soon as Sunday. Boone returned to practice last week and is eligible to join the roster over the next two weeks. Fangio said Darby could return to practice this week.
Fangio added Risner, who practiced on a limited basis last Friday, had been close to playing in Sunday’s loss. In the end, none of the Broncos opponents will care all that much about the team’s injury hardships, though.
“We got a team full of tough guys,” linebacker Von Miller said. “We just got to respond, and this week is everything with us going against a tough Pittsburgh team.”
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