There was a moment, just before a snap in team drills during Monday’s practice, when Broncos safety Rahim Moore looked over and expected to see who he always sees to his left – cornerback Champ Bailey.
But Bailey, who injured his left foot in Seattle, won’t be back at his spot in the near future. The Broncos are still hopeful he will be ready for the Sept. 5 regular-season opener against the Ravens.
“It did feel a little different,’’ Moore said. “ … Especially with me as a safety, communicating with Champ.’’
On Monday the Broncos used veteran Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to fill in for Bailey with the defensive regulars, a departure from what they’ve done in the past when Chris Harris took over the role when Bailey was given a practice off from time to time. Instead Harris lined up some Monday at right cornerback, where Rodgers-Cromartie had been the starter for much of the preseason until an ankle injury kept him off the field for a portion of training camp and the first two preseason games.
In the nickel Harris then moved inside to the slot and Tony Carter went in at right cornerback.
X-rays showed no fracture in Bailey’s foot and an MRI exam Sunday showed no major tears. But the 12-time Pro Bowl selection left CenturyLink Field on crutches and is not expected to play again in the preseason as Bailey now focuses on a possible return for the regular-season opener.
“He’s day-to-day and right now we got Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie back,’’ said Broncos coach John Fox. “We like to have everybody healthy, but that’s not the case.
Bailey has missed just 14 games combined in his previous nine season with the Broncos. Denver has an 8-6 record in those games, but are just 1-3 in the last four games Bailey has missed. The Broncos face Joe Flacco and Eli Manning in their first two games of the regular seaosn.
With Derek Wolfe (neck) out of practice, the Broncos did a little mix-and-match in the defensive front. Malik Jackson, a 2012 draft pick by the Broncos who has opened some eyes in the preseason thus far, had plenty of snaps with the defensive starters at defensive tackle while Shaun Phillips worked plenty at left defensive end. The Broncos expect Wolfe back for the opener, but he’s a difficult player to replace because he does so much both at end and tackle in Jack Del Rio’s defense. Del Rio has always said even thoughWolfe is listed at end that he actually takes about 80 percent of his snaps at tackle when the Broncos go to all of their specialty looks. The Broncos believe Jackson, at 293 pounds, has that same kind of versatility and he has steadily moved up the depth chart throughout training camp and the preseason. Jackson should get plenty of work with the defensive regulars in Saturday’s preseason game against the Rams.
Center Ryan Lilja, who the Broncos signed out of retirement after Dan Koppen (knee) was moved to injured reserve, missed practice because of his knee. Lilja had knee and toe surgeries earlier in the offseason and the Broncos had been trying to gauge how much to ask him to do as he worked his way back on to the field. Lilja had been working as a backup guard as well over the last two weeks. So, with Louis Vasquez (knee) out of practice as well, C.J. Davis lined up in Vasquez’ right guard spot. Manny Ramirez was at center, as he has been throughout the offseason workouts and preseason despite all of the Broncos signings.
Wide receiver Wes Welker (right ankle) also did not practice. After working with the strength and conditioning staff in the Broncos weight room Welker and Vasquez moved to the Broncos sideline outside where they watched the remainder of practice. Both players are expected to be ready for the regular-season opener.
Running back Knowshon Moreno returned to practice after being held out last week with a knee injury -- Moreno had offseason knee surgery. And given the struggles in pass protection from time to time by Ronnie Hillman and rookie Montee Ball, Moreno can still carve out a role in the offense with that skill. Broncos running backs coach Eric Studesville said the back who plays on passing downs will be the one, or ones, who do the best at keeping the rushers off Manning. Manning took a bone-rattling hit in Saturday’s loss in Seattle when Ball didn’t stop one of the rushers who had come free in a blitz situation. “You always want to protect the guy back there throwing the ball,’’ Moreno said. “ … We do want to protect No. 18 back there for sure.’’