- Jeff Legwold, ESPN Staff Writer
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos surprised no one Sunday as they took a step toward getting the roster to 75 players by Tuesday's deadline, and it was clear their decisions were influenced by who's hurt and who isn't.
The toughest choices are still to come, of course, with the deadline to get down to 53 players arriving Saturday at 4 p.m. MT. The Broncos will start the clock for the regular season sooner than most teams because they're playing in the league's kickoff game Sept. 5, and so the team will likely make the majority of their cuts this Friday -- the day after the preseason finale against Arizona -- because they will practice on the weekend in preparation for the opener against Baltimore.
Sunday's cuts put the Broncos roster at 77 players, including center J.D. Walton, who is on the physically unable to perform list. Walton, who had ankle surgery before training camp, is expected to be ready by late October or early November.
The Broncos can designate only one player to return from injured reserve when the cut goes to 53 players, and they have at least two candidates in Walton and linebacker Stewart Bradley (wrist surgery) to go with Chris Kuper, who is still trying to return from offseason ankle surgery and has been limited since returning to the practice field. Kuper was not in uniform for Saturday night's game against the Rams.
Among Sunday's decisions, the release of wide receiver Greg Orton was notable given he was pushing for the fifth receiver spot. He faced an uphill climb, with Andre Caldwell having worked so much with the starters as the No. 4 receiver, both in the slot and on the outside, and rookie Tavarres King having shown more athleticism with the ability to play in the slot or outside as well as on special teams. Undrafted rookie Lamaar Thomas has also caught the eye of the Broncos' coaches and is a quality candidate for the practice squad.
Orton's ill-timed ankle injury didn't help his cause. The Broncos formally waived him injured Sunday, meaning he'll have to clear waivers before moving to injured reserve, but the Broncos are expected to reach an injury settlement with him in the coming days.
Of the 11 players cut, seven did not play against the Rams, so the Broncos' DNP list provided plenty of hints about who would not make the cut.
To that end, Jacob Tamme's return to the field from a thigh injury that cost him several practices made tight end Deangelo Peterson, a late signee after camp opened, an extra player at the position and he was released. Tight end Joel Dreessen, who is returning from knee surgery, is expected to be ready for the opener.
Undrafted rookie wide receiver Quincy McDuffie flashed some special-teams ability but suffered two hamstring injuries that affected his ability to stay on the field and state his case. McDuffie was also waived/injured. Other players released were wide receiver Kemonte' Bateman, cornerback Mario Butler, tackle Manase Foketi, quarterback Ryan Katz, linebacker Uona Kaveinga, cornerback Nigel Malone, guard/center Quentin Saulsberry and defensive end Lanston Tanyi.
Saulsberry had a troubled time with the Broncos, with a suspension last season for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs while he was on the practice squad to go with an offseason drunken-driving arrest. Saulsberry served three games of a four-game suspension, and would have to sit out one more game if he were to sign with anyone for the active roster or practice squad.