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Broncos practice report: Moreno finds niche

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When the Denver Broncos have talked about the running-back job in this preseason, Knowshon Moreno’s name has usually been a late addition to the sentence. After some discussion about Ronnie Hillman and rookie Montee Ball, about their work with the starting offense, often it would simply be something on the order of “and Knowshon knows our system.’’

But with what the Broncos' backs do without the ball looming as important in the coming depth-chart decisions as how they run with it, Moreno continues to carve out some potential work in the team’s third-down and longer-yardage looks. So much so that Moreno even took some snaps with the starters in some team drills Thursday.

Why? Because Moreno, who has frustrated more than one die-hard fan in the Rocky Mountain region with his frenetic running style, is still the most consistent back in pass protection.

And as offensive coordinator Adam Gase said this week, the backs’ job in pass protection “is to make sure 18 doesn’t get touched.’’ Peyton Manning -- "18" -- took an enormous hit Saturday in the loss in Seattle when Ball missed a blitz pick-up, the kind of hit that can change a season.

Also, given how much the Broncos would like to run a three-wide look on offense or even to put both tight ends in the pass pattern when they do go to a two-tight end look, their backs have to vigilant when it comes to picking up extra rushers. And the one who is most consistent will get to play in those situations, no matter how often he gets to carry the ball on early downs. That has increased the potential playing time for Moreno and perhaps Jacob Hester as well. Hester has also been used a fullback.

“It’s important,’’ Moreno said. “I think it’s something you get better at as you go. Probably the biggest difference from college to here is doing that, especially against the kind of pass rushers you see.’’

In other news:

  • Defensive end/tackle Derek Wolfe, who was taken from the field by ambulance Saturday night after a helmet-to-helmet collision with Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson, made his first public comments since the injury. Wolfe said he experienced numbness immediately following the collision, but was diagnosed with a cervical strain, and said “it looked worse than it was.’’ Wolfe added he did not regain feeling in some of his extremities until he was placed in the ambulance. The second-year defensive lineman said he has some pain in the right side of his neck and will not return to the field until he has another MRI and is then cleared by the team’s medical staff. He added that he did a full upper-body workout Thursday. Wolfe is not expected to play for the remainder of the preseason, but the Broncos do expect him to be ready for the regular-season opener against the Ravens.

  • Tight end Joel Dreessen, who had arthroscopic surgery on his knee just before minicamp and then again early on in training camp, has picked up the pace of his rehab. Dreessen did some work with strength-and-conditioning coach Luke Richesson during Thursday’s practice.

  • Rookie wide receiver Quincy McDuffie had turned some heads with his work on special teams early in camp before he suffered a hamstring injury that kept him out several weeks. McDuffie just returned to practice this week, but left Thursday’s workout with another hamstring injury.

  • Cornerback Champ Bailey, who suffered a left foot injury in Seattle, will not play for the remainder of the preseason. Bailey, who is wearing on walking boot on the injured foot, was seen walking without the aid of crutches Thursday.

  • Wide receiver Wes Welker, who injured his ankle against the Seahawks, returned to practice Thursday. He did some limited work in drills.