- Jeff Legwold, ESPN Staff Writer
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In a preseason when the Broncos have been forced to juggle plenty on the offensive line, another ball went in the air.
Right tackle Orlando Franklin left practice with a right hip injury Monday. X-rays were negative on the hip shortly after he went to the trainers' room, but Franklin was slated for a MRI exam as well to check for any soft tissue damage.
It's still unclear if Franklin's injury would keep him out an extended period of time, but it forced another set of moves along the offensive front to keep practice going in a camp that has already been full of adjustments.
The Broncos have two centers already out in various stages of injury recovery in J.D. Walton (on the PUP list) and Dan Koppen (out for year with torn ACL). Guard Chris Kuper is still trying to come back from an offseason surgery on his ankle and tackle Ryan Clady is still practicing only on a limited basis in his return from offseason shoulder surgery.
When Franklin left Monday's practice, Louis Vasquez, signed to a four-year deal in free agency to bolster the middle of the Broncos' protection schemes, was moved into the right tackle spot and Ryan Lilja, who was signed only last Thursday, moved into Vasquez' right guard spot.
Manny Ramirez has worked with the starters at center throughout camp, but has never started a game at the position in the NFL and backup Chris Clark has been working at Clady's left tackle spot. As a whole the position continues to represent the biggest point of uncertainty for a Super Bowl hopeful.
But Broncos coach John Fox remains optimistic.
"We feel good about where we are in the offensive line,'' Fox said. "We'll find exactly what the details are with Orlando, but I am pretty pleased with where we are.''
Quarterback Peyton Manning had hinted following the team's scrimmage Saturday night that the Broncos' intended to fast-track Lilja to get the veteran lineman ready to play. Monday was proof of that as Lilja, formally listed as the fourth-team center on the depth chart, was immediately put in with the starters after Franklin's injury.
"He's very, very football smart -- very high football character as far as that goes,'' Fox said. "I'm really more concerned with him right now getting in hitting shape more than we are whether he knows what he's doing.''
Lilja has said "a lot of the terminology, I'm familiar with,'' after playing in front of Manning with the Colts 2004-2009.
Lilja figures to play at least some with the starters in Thursday's preseason opener in San Francisco if the Broncos deem him ready physically. He was not in an offseason program having believed he was retired before he signed in Denver and also had knee and toe surgeries in the offseason.
Tight end Jacob Tamme (thigh) returned to practice on a limited basis Monday. Monday afternoon tight end Joel Dreessen also had the second arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in the last two months.
That left Julius Thomas to take most of the reps with the starters. Thomas, after battling an ankle injury for almost two seasons, has steadily earned more and more playing in this training camp. He had surgery on the ankle following the 2011 season.
With Dreessen's surgery, Thomas will get the remainder of the preseason to continue to show what he can do in the offense, easily his best chance to earn significant playing time since being a fourth-round pick in '11.
He injured his ankle on his only career catch, in Cincinnati, during his rookie season.
4hEric D. Williams
1dEric D. Williams