NFL Nation: Ronnie Hillman

INDIANAPOLIS -- Whatever becomes of the Denver Broncos offense is still under construction as Gary Kubiak and his coaching staff begin to create the framework of what things will look like with Peyton Manning at quarterback this fall.

Kubiak said at the scouting combine this week that he’s already begun to create the terminology for the playbook, “meshing" what Manning has used with the Broncos and what Kubiak’s teams have used in his career.

But Kubiak also made a couple of philosophical things clear.

“If you run the ball well offensively in this league, it opens up some other avenues," Kubiak said. “ … We’re going to run the ball and we’re going to be physical."

[+] EnlargeC.J. Anderson
AP Photo/Michael ConroyNew Broncos coach Gary Kubiak wants running back C.J. Anderson to act like the starter this offseason.
And on the prospect of a fullback, which the Broncos didn’t have this past season, Kubiak offered: “That’s a topic, obviously I’ve had one on my team all the time, it’s something we’ve discussed, that we’re going to have to find, or have to build."

In the end, a productive running game might offer the biggest challenge to the new staff. The Broncos offense became somewhat disjointed down the stretch, from a Nov. 16 loss at St. Louis when the Broncos had 10 rushing attempts through the loss in the playoffs to the Indianapolis Colts as the Broncos tried to combine a more committed approach in the run game to what they could do, and were already doing, in the passing game.

Toss in some struggles on the offensive line -- Broncos running backs had first contact with defenders at or behind the line of scrimmage on 33 percent of their carries this past season -- and the attempt to weave it all together will get plenty of attention in the weeks and months ahead. For his part, Manning said in Phoenix, two days before the Super Bowl, that he would be "comfortable" in any offense Kubiak and the Broncos created. Manning also endorsed the benefits of play-action inside a productive run game.

During his time as an NFL play-caller, Kubiak has had a player lead the league in passing yards, rushing yards and receiving yards at some point. He obviously likes the prospect of Manning at quarterback, coming off a 39-touchdown season, as well as the team’s running backs, starting with C.J. Anderson.

Asked Wednesday if Anderson should be considered the starter, Kubiak said, “He’s got to go earn that. I think when he walked off the field last year he was playing that way. … When I talked to him, I said, ‘C.J., when you come back to the offseason, you need to walk in here handling yourself like a starter. I think he’s ready to do that. … I’m very excited about the young running backs we have."

The group includes Montee Ball, who was the starter when last season opened, along with Ronnie Hillman and Juwan Thompson, who could be one of the initial candidates to play fullback.

Last season, in Kubiak’s only year as Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator, the Ravens finished among the league’s top 11 in rushing attempts, rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. The Broncos have not had a season in which the team finished in the league's top 11 in those three categories since 2005, when they were second in rushing attempts, second in rushing yards and third in rushing TDs. That was the last year Kubiak was the Broncos offensive coordinator before he accepted the job as head coach of the Houston Texans.

“It’s something I believe in, something I think you need to do as an offense," Kubiak said. “ … It will be part of what we do."
DENVER -- Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall said Friday he believed he was ready to play in the AFC divisional round game against the Indianapolis Colts, and Sunday Broncos head coach John Fox agreed.

Marshall, the team’s leading tackler, will be in uniform and back in the lineup for the playoff matchup. Marshall has not played since the Broncos’ Dec. 14 win in San Diego because of a foot injury.

Marshall said following Friday’s practice he felt the best he has since before the injury and that “in my mind, I know I could go. ... I can go.’’

Fox said Friday he wanted to see how Marshall responded after Saturday’s practice. It’s no small thing to have Marshall back in the lineup given that before his injury, Marshall had seven games in which he played every defensive snap.

He missed the final two games of the season and still played 81.2 percent of the defensive snaps for the season.

Guard Orlando Franklin and safety David Bruton Jr., who suffered concussions in the regular-season finale, will both play in Sunday’s game.

The Broncos had no big surprises among their game-day inactives, but it is worth noting Jeremy Stewart will be the No. 3 running back in the game, behind C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman. Juwan Thompson, who has dealt with hip and knee injuries of late, was one of the game-day inactives.

Also inactive for the Broncos: wide receiver Cody Latimer, cornerback Tony Carter, tackle Paul Cornick, tackle Michael Schofield, tight end Dominique Jones and defensive tackle Mitch Unrein.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There are times in the NFL when a bye week is looked upon as if it were some magic elixir with the power to heal those who need it.

For Denver Broncos tight end Julius Thomas, this is one of those times.

“I definitely needed this bye," Thomas said of Broncos' bye in the first round of the playoffs. “I’m looking forward to it. It’ll just give me an opportunity to focus on rehab. When you’re practicing and playing, it’s kind of hard. It’s a little bit of give and take. So this next week, it’ll be big for me from a recovery standpoint."

Thomas
Since the Broncos’ Nov. 16 loss in St. Louis, they have certainly made a concerted effort to put a little more dirt under their fingernails and run the ball more. They’ve averaged 33 carries a game since that defeat and have topped 30 carries in four of the last six games after hitting at least 30 carries just three times in their first 10 games.

The other major difference in the offense has been Thomas’ left ankle injury.

Before the injury, Thomas was averaging four catches and 42.6 yards per game while leading the league in touchdown receptions with 12.

Since he returned –- he’s played in the last three games -- Thomas has averaged 1.5 catches and 31.5 yards per game without a touchdown. In Sunday’s win over the Oakland Raiders, Thomas played 33 snaps and not only did not have a reception, he was not thrown to in the game.

And most difficult for Thomas is this has the migraine-inducing feel of a road he has been down before.

“It’s a frustrating game," said Thomas, who is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent at season's end. “But I always say life’s always going to throw something at you, so you’ve got to be prepared for it and do what you can to overcome it. So I’ve dealt with adversity before and I’ve found a way through it and I’ll continue to do so."

Thomas essentially lost the first two seasons of his career -- 2011 and 2012 -- to a right ankle injury he suffered on his first NFL reception Sept. 18, 2011 in Cincinnati. Following the 5-yard catch, Thomas missed 23 of the next 32 regular-season games, had surgery following the 2011 season and didn’t catch another pass until Sept. 5, 2013, when he finished with five catches for 110 yards and two touchdowns in the regular-season-opening win over the Baltimore Ravens last year.

Broncos head coach John Fox, when asked this week if Thomas was still “struggling" with the injury, said: “I didn’t say that, you did."

Fox said Thomas’ track since his return has essentially been that of a player coming back from some missed time.

“He did come off an injury," Fox said. “He’s working his way back into it. (He) just has to continue to get healthy and continue to work his way back into it."

Then Fox later added: “I don’t think he’s struggling."

For his part, Thomas has said the current injury is "nothing like" his injury from 2011 and that he is close to feeling how he did earlier in the season when he was on pace to break the record for touchdowns receptions in a season by a tight end.

Defenses have altered, at least to some degree, how they have played the Broncos since Thomas was hurt. Thomas consistently stressed defenses down the deep middle and didn’t allow opposing coordinators to put an extra player in the middle of the field to take away the Broncos’ coveted crossing routes.

The Broncos had slightly more success testing the perimeter of the Raiders’ defense Sunday with Ronnie Hillman’s return at running back after he missed six games with a left foot injury. And the Broncos targeted tight end Virgil Green three times in the passing game Sunday -- Green finished with three receptions and his first career touchdown.

Still, when the Broncos face their opponent Jan. 11 in the divisional round, Thomas believes his chances of making some kind of impact will have improved.

“I just try to do everything I can, continue to get better and try to get healthier," Thomas said. “Some things feel great, some things I’m still trying to improve on. It kind of changes day-to-day, but I’m just going to keep working with it and keep doing all I can. That is definitely the goal. I’m hoping that in two weeks it’ll be a big change for me. So get over that hump and get back to looking like the guy I used to be. So I’m looking forward to it and definitely anticipate being in better health."

Rapid Reaction: Denver Broncos

December, 28, 2014
12/28/14
7:50
PM ET

DENVER – A few thoughts on the Denver Broncos' 47-14 win over the Oakland Raiders:

What it means: The Broncos, even with 22 players on their injury report this week, earned a needed and coveted bye week in the first round of the postseason. Denver also finished with an 8-0 record at home for just the sixth time since the schedule expanded to 16 games. The Broncos earned a home game in the divisional round and the AFC’s No. 2 seed.

Stock watch: Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas set a single-season yardage record with a second-quarter catch that, at that moment, gave him 1,614 for the year. He had 110 yards receiving by halftime -- his 10th 100-yard receiving game of the season -- and continues to be a matchup nightmare for defenses, despite the fact they give him a lot of attention. Thomas has played through an ankle injury in recent weeks and on Sunday battled through a finger injury as well. The Broncos won’t let the soon-to-be unrestricted free agent hit the open market. They’ll either sign him to a long-term deal or use the franchise player tag on him in 2015 as they continue to work toward a deal.

A nice addition: Running back Ronnie Hillman played in his first game since he suffered a left foot injury Nov. 9 in Oakland. His return gave the Broncos a little more pop in the offense. Hillman’s speed gave the Broncos a little different look Sunday, and he proved to be a quality option with C.J. Anderson in the run game. Anderson averaged 6.7 yards per carry with three rushing touchdowns in 13 carries, and Hillman averaged 3.7 yards per carry in 15 carries. Defenses have packed the middle on the Broncos in recent weeks. Hillman’s return, with his threat to the perimeter, should give Denver another way to clear some of that traffic out of the way.

Game ball: It’s been a season in which the Broncos have consistently been measured, especially on offense, against last year’s Super Bowl team. No player has had a quality season get lost in the comparison more than quarterback Peyton Manning. While linebacker Brandon Marshall certainly has a claim to be the team’s MVP this season, as do cornerback Chris Harris Jr. and wide receivers Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, Manning overcame four changes in the offensive line, injuries at running back and another year in his own aging process, as the Broncos tried to diversify their offense mid-stream with more emphasis on the run game. He entered Sunday’s game as the league leader in touchdown passes -- Andrew Luck threw two TD passes Sunday to pass him -- and the Broncos, after finishing 12-4, are 38-10 in games he starts.

What’s next: The Broncos are expected to give the players a little bit of time off this week -- but not too much -- as they prepare for their first playoff opponent. They will clean up some loose ends on the practice field with some self-scouting work and hope the bye week gives them the opportunity to get as healthy as possible. The only significant injury added to the list Sunday was a concussion to guard Orlando Franklin.
DENVER -- After saying running back Ronnie Hillman looked “very good’’ in practice Friday, Denver Broncos head coach John Fox followed through Sunday by putting Hillman in uniform for the regular-season finale against the Oakland Raiders in Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

It will be Hillman’s first game back in the lineup since he suffered a left foot injury Nov. 9 against the Raiders. Hillman had been a full participant in all of the team’s practices this past week.

Before his injury, Hillman had taken a turn as the Broncos’ lead back earlier this season with 100 yards rushing in the win over the New York Jets and 109 yards rushing in an Oct. 23 win over the San Diego Chargers. The Broncos will be happy to have his speed back in the lineup. Of the team's eight runs of at least 20 yards this season, Hillman has three – all three came in a three-game span in October. He’s also had two of the team’s three runs of at least 30 yards.

Hillman’s return comes at a good time since Juwan Thompson (knee, hip) was one of the Broncos’ seven game-day inactives, so Hillman is expected to be the No. 2 back behind C.J. Anderson.

Linebacker Brandon Marshall, who suffered a left foot injury in the Broncos’ win in San Diego, did not practice this week and, as expected, was also one of the inactives. Marshall did work with the strength and conditioning staff this week and would certainly benefit from the bye in the wild-card round the Broncos would earn with a win Sunday.

Safety T.J. Ward, who suffered a neck injury in Monday night’s loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, was limited in Friday’s practice and was also one of the Broncos’ inactives. Ward will be available for the Broncos’ first playoff game.

Also among the game-day inactives for the Broncos were: tackle Paul Cornick, tackle Michael Schofield, tight end Dominique Jones and defensive tackle Mitch Unrein.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- As the Denver Broncos continued through their preparations Friday for the regular-season finale, the chances continue to increase that running back Ronnie Hillman will be part of the mix on offense Sunday against the Oakland Raiders.

Hillman
Hillman, who has missed the last six games after suffering a left foot injury Nov. 9 against the Raiders, practiced fully again Friday. It meant Hillman was a full participant in all of the team's practices this week.

Before his injury, Hillman had taken a turn as the Broncos' lead back with 100 yards rushing in the win over the New York Jets on Oct. 12 and 109 yards rushing in an Oct. 23 win over the San Diego Chargers. The Broncos will be happy to have his speed back in the lineup. Of the team's eight runs of at least 20 yards this season, Hillman has three -- all three came in a three-game span in October -- and he's had two of the team's three runs of at least 30 yards.

"He's got good burst, good explosion, same things you saw before the injury," said Broncos head coach John Fox following Friday's practice. "He looks to be back in that form and we'll see how that goes, he hasn't played football in six weeks. Get nervous a little bit about that, but he has a good week of practice."

Hillman was formally listed as probable for Sunday's game.

Linebacker Brandon Marshall, who suffered a left foot injury in the Broncos' win in San Diego, did not practice this week and was formally ruled out of Sunday's game. Marshall did work with the strength and conditioning staff this week and continues to progress.

He would certainly benefit from a Broncos win on Sunday, which would give the team a bye in the wild-card round of the playoffs.

Safety T.J. Ward, who suffered a neck injury in Monday night's loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, was limited Friday and listed as questionable. Given the nature of the injury and the way Ward plays in the defense, the Broncos may be inclined to hold him out Sunday.

Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (hip) was also limited Friday and listed as questionable, but is expected to play. Reserve tackle Paul Cornick (toe on right foot) was the only other player limited in Friday's practice.

Again the Broncos had lengthy list of other players with injuries on the report who took part fully in Friday's practice, including Peyton Manning (right thigh), left tackle Ryan Clady (right thigh), wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (right ankle), tight end Julius Thomas (left ankle) and running back C.J. Anderson (left ankle). All are listed as probable and expected to play.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Tucked within a long injury report as the Denver Broncos prepare for Sunday's regular-season finale against the Oakland Raiders was running back Ronnie Hillman taking part in his first full practice since he suffered a left foot injury Nov. 9 in the Broncos' first meeting of the season with the Raiders.

Hillman
It was also Hillman's first full practice since Nov. 7. Hillman has practiced at least some during the last two weeks, but has missed the six games since his injury.

And as defenses continue to pack the middle of the field to take away the Broncos' favorite routes in the passing game and crowd the line of scrimmage in the run game, Hillman's speed to the edge could be a welcome addition back into the offensive huddle.

"We've had a chance to watch him all week, participate and he's obviously further ahead than he was this time a week ago," said Broncos head coach John Fox following Wednesday's practice. "And the fact we're on grass, not on Astroturf, lot of variables, but I like what I see."

The Broncos have had a wave of illness go through the locker room in recent weeks with defensive end Derek Wolfe and quarterback Peyton Manning among those who have felt the effects.

Wednesday linebacker Lamin Barrow, defensive tackle Mitch Unrein and guard Manny Ramirez were all held out of practice because of illness. Linebacker Brandon Marshall (left foot) was also held out of practice.

Safety T.J. Ward (neck), who was injured in the fourth quarter of Monday's loss, took part in practice on a limited basis. Ward underwent X-rays at the stadium Monday night to go with some additional tests, including an MRI, on Tuesday after the team had returned to Denver.

Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (hip) and tackle Paul Cornick (toe on right foot) were also limited in practice.

The Broncos also listed 13 other players with injuries on the report who took part fully in Thursday's practice, including Manning (right thigh). Tight end Jacob Tamme, who has dealt with a rib injury in recent weeks, was listed with a foot injury and took part fully Wednesday.

Left tackle Ryan Clady (right thigh), wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (right ankle), tight end Julius Thomas (left ankle) and running back C.J. Anderson (left ankle) were also among the players who took part fully in Wednesday's practice.
CINCINNATI -- With running backs C.J. Anderson (left ankle) and Juwan Thompson (knee, hip) having missed some practice time this past week, the Denver Broncos had some initial concerns about their depth at the position.

But with an extra day of rest leading up to Monday night’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Anderson and Thompson were both ready to play in Paul Brown Stadium.

And with Jeremy Stewart serving as the No. 3 back in the game, the Broncos made Ronnie Hillman (left foot) a gameday inactive and did not move Kapri Bibbs up from the practice squad, a move they likely would have made if Thompson had not been ready to play. Hillman has practiced the last two weeks, but he is still not all the way back from his injury and has now missed the last six games.

Also among the Broncos gameday inactives for the first time this season was defensive end Quanterus Smith. Smith, who is still looking for his first career sack, had played in the previous 14 games.

Mitch Unrein was kept active for Monday’s game with the Bengals expected to try and muscle up on offense and run the ball plenty at the Broncos' defense. The Broncos had four defensive tackles in uniform Monday -- Unrein, Terrance Knighton, Marvin Austin Jr and Sylvester Williams -- when they often go into a game with three.

Also among the gameday inactives for the Broncos were: cornerback Tony Carter, linebacker Brandon Marshall (left foot), tackle Paul Cornick, tackle Michael Schofield and tight end Dominique Jones.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Denver Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders was sent home Saturday from the team’s complex because he suffered from what head coach John Fox called "flu-like symptoms."

Sanders
Sanders did not participate in the team’s practice and was officially listed as questionable for Monday night’s game against the Bengals. However, Fox said Sanders will make the Sunday afternoon trip to Cincinnati with the Broncos and is expected to play in the game.

Sanders is the team’s second-leading receiver with 89 catches and 1,261 yards.

Quarterback Peyton Manning was limited in Saturday’s practice because of a right thigh injury he suffered in this past weekend's win against San Diego, and also listed as questionable. However, Manning, too, is expected to start. He threw in drills during the workout after participating in the team’s walk-through.

Other than when he missed the 2011 season following spinal-fusion surgery, Manning has not missed a start in his 16 other NFL seasons. Asked about Manning’s workload in Saturday’s practice, Fox said:

"(It was) fairly normal to the rest of the season ... He looked good in practice."

Manning also participated in the walk-through and threw in individual drills Friday. On Thursday, Manning participated in the Broncos’ walk-through, went through the team stretch and then went back into the Broncos’ complex to get treatment.

Manning, who played Sunday’s game with flu-like symptoms after getting four IVs Saturday night and Sunday morning combined, injured his thigh when he rolled out right to throw a 12-yard completion to Sanders with 5 minutes, 39 seconds remaining in the first half.

Manning stayed in the game for the next eight plays, but left the field following a C.J. Anderson run for no gain on a third-and-goal from the Chargers’ 1-yard line. Brock Osweiler finished out the first half before Manning played the entire second half.

Also Saturday, linebacker Brandon Marshall (left foot) and tackle Paul Cornick (toe on right foot) did not practice and will not play Monday night. Marshall is the Broncos’ leading tackler.

Running back Juwan Thompson (hip, knee), running back Ronnie Hillman (left foot), left tackle Ryan Clady (right thigh), and cornerback Kayvon Webster (right shoulder) were also limited in Saturday’s practice and officially listed as questionable for the game. Clady is expected to start at left tackle, and Thompson and Hillman are expected to be available to play.

Hillman has not played since he suffered his injury Nov. 9 against the Oakland Raiders.

Center Will Montgomery (knee) and tight end Jacob Tamme (ribs) participated fully Saturday and will play. Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (right ankle), Anderson (left ankle), and tight end Julius Thomas (left ankle) all took part fully in Saturday’s practice as well and will play.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning participated in Thursday's practice on a limited basis, then left the field for the bulk of the main practice in order to get some treatment on a right thigh injury he suffered late in the first half of Sunday’s victory over the San Diego Chargers.

Manning took part in the team’s walk-through and team stretch, then returned to the locker room once the main practice began. After taking most Wednesdays off in the second half of the 2013 season, this was the first time Manning had left the practice field this season.

Manning
The 38-year-old is expected to practice Friday and was walking without a limp when he left the field to go to the locker room as well as following practice. Because the Broncos play on Monday night in Cincinnati, the players did not practice on Tuesday or Wednesday, so Thursday’s practice mirrored what the team would have normally done on a Wednesday.

“He’s day-to-day," said Broncos head coach John Fox, who is routinely reticent on any injury. “Tomorrow’s a new day, we’ll keep you posted."

Manning, who played Sunday’s game with flu-like symptoms and received four IVs on Saturday night and Sunday morning, injured his thigh when he rolled out right to throw a 12-yard completion to wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders with 5 minutes, 39 seconds remaining in the second quarter.

He stayed in the game for the next eight plays, but left the field following a C.J. Anderson run for no gain on a third-and-goal from the Chargers’ 1-yard line. Brock Osweiler finished out the first half; Manning played the entire second half.

“I feel OK," Manning said following practice. Asked if he would be ready to play Monday night, Manning said; “I certainly hope so."

Manning also said after practice that his illness was behind him and he was simply receiving treatment on his leg at the moment to go with his usual work with the strength and conditioning staff, which Manning does each week to prepare for games since he returned from spinal fusion surgery that kept him out the entire 2011 season. And because he's always ready with a quip, Manning gave a nod to New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick when Manning answered a smattering of questions with "we're on the Cincinnati."

Also Thursday, linebacker Brandon Marshall (left foot), tackle Paul Cornick (toe on right foot) and running back Juwan Thompson (hip, knee) were also held out of practice.

Running back Ronnie Hillman (left foot), who has missed the last five games, took part on a limited basis Thursday as the Broncos continue to hope he will soon be ready for some situational work in the offense.

Left tackle Ryan Clady (right thigh), center Will Montgomery (knee), tight end Jacob Tamme (ribs) and cornerback Kayvon Webster (right shoulder) all participated Thursday on a limited basis. Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (right ankle) and tight end Julius Thomas (left ankle) took part fully in the practice.
SAN DIEGO -- Running back Ronnie Hillman did return to practice this past week, but only on a limited basis and as a result was one of the Denver Broncos' seven game-day inactives Sunday.

And after a week when the Broncos went through their work with a substantial list of injured players their list of inactives Sunday for the AFC West matchup with the San Diego Chargers reflected it.

In addition to Hillman (left foot), tight end Jacob Tamme (ribs) was among the seven players as was tackle Paul Cornick (toe on right foot), wide receiver Cody Latimer (concussion) and cornerback Kayvon Webster (right shoulder).

With the absence of Tamme and Cornick (who was lined up as an extra tight end in recent games), Julius Thomas is expected to be back in the offensive game plan. Thomas, who was in uniform last week against the Buffalo Bills for the first time since he suffered a left ankle injury, did not play against the Bills.

But Thomas practiced fully Friday and is expected to reclaim his usual workload.

With Hillman being an inactive and Montee Ball having been placed on injured reserve Saturday, the Broncos will have C.J. Anderson, Juwan Thompson and Jeremy Stewart as their top three running backs against the Chargers.

The other Broncos game-day inactives were: tackle Michael Schofield and defensive tackle Mitch Unrein.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Denver Broncos tight end Julius Thomas was a full participant in the team’s practice Friday, the first time he has taken part fully in a team workout since he suffered a left ankle injury in the first quarter of the Broncos’ Nov. 16 loss in St. Louis.

Thomas, who was in uniform for the Broncos’ victory over the Buffalo Bills last Sunday but did not play a snap in the game, was formally listed as probable for Sunday’s game against the San Diego Chargers. Thomas, unless he suffers some unexpected setback in the team’s walk-through Saturday or in pregame warm-ups, is expected to play in San Diego and get close to his usual workload in the offense.

Thomas
“He was active for the game a week ago; I saw great progress last week," Broncos head coach John Fox said following Friday’s practice. “And even better progress this week."

Despite missing three games, Thomas is still tied for the league lead in touchdown catches with 12, the same as Green Bay’s Jordy Nelson. In the Broncos’ Oct. 23 win over the Chargers in Denver, Thomas had two receptions for 23 yards and was held without a touchdown.

Thomas’ return comes at an opportune time, as the Broncos can clinch their fourth consecutive AFC West title with a win Sunday. Tight end Jacob Tamme (ribs) is questionable for Sunday’s game and reserve tackle Paul Cornick, who has lined up as an extra tight end at times this season, is out with a toe injury on his right foot.

Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (right ankle), running back C.J. Anderson (left ankle) and wide receiver Wes Welker (right ankle) were all held out of practice Wednesday, but practiced fully Friday and will all play against the Chargers.

Running back Ronnie Hillman (left foot), who practiced for the first time Wednesday since he suffered the injury Nov. 9 against the Oakland Raiders, took part in Thursday’s and Friday’s practices on a limited basis and was formally listed as questionable for the game.

Linebacker Danny Trevathan, who is currently practicing but is still on the injured reserve/designated to return list and is eligible to play Sunday if the Broncos move him back on the roster, participated fully in practice throughout the week. The Broncos are expected to move him to the active roster Saturday so he can play Sunday against the Chargers.

Safety Quinton Carter (knee) did not practice Friday and is listed as doubtful for Sunday’s game. Running back Montee Ball (right groin) and wide receiver Cody Latimer (concussion) did not practice this week and will not play Sunday.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos looked more like themselves for Thursday’s practice when wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (right ankle), running back C.J. Anderson (left ankle) and wide receiver Wes Welker (right ankle) were all back in the offense.

Thomas
All three of the regulars took part on a limited basis in the workout and are expected to play in Sunday’s game against the San Diego Chargers. With a win the Broncos will clinch their fourth consecutive AFC West title and the playoff spot that comes with it.

Tight end Julius Thomas (left ankle) also continued to work toward his return to the lineup. Thomas, who said Wednesday he felt "far better" about his chances to play this week than he has in previous weeks, took part on a limited basis Thursday. The Broncos could certainly use Julius Thomas in the lineup, or they will have to make some adjustments to their game plan.

The Broncos have been working out of a two-tight-end look more in recent weeks than they did previously in the season, even with Julius Thomas out. However, tight end Jacob Tamme (ribs) and reserve tackle Paul Cornick (toe on right foot), who has played as an extra tight end, were both held out of practice Thursday. They missed Wednesday’s workout as well. It meant Virgil Green was the only player at the position on the roster to go through all of Thursday's practice. The Broncos, however, have expressed some private optimism that Julius Thomas will be ready to play Sunday.

"I would say it’s fair, we’ve made adjustments," said Broncos head coach John Fox.

Running back Ronnie Hillman (left foot), who practiced for the first time Wednesday since he suffered the injury Nov. 9 against the Oakland Raiders, took part in Thursday’s practice on a limited basis. He has missed the past four games.

And linebacker Danny Trevathan, who is practicing but still on injured reserve/designated to return and eligible to play Sunday if the Broncos move him back on the roster, participated in all of Thursday’s practice. If the Broncos want to play Trevathan in Sunday’s game, they would have to move him to the 53-man roster by Saturday.

In addition to Tamme and Cornick, running back Montee Ball (right groin), wide receiver Cody Latimer (concussion) and safety Quinton Carter (knee) did not participate in Thursday’s practice.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Perhaps it is the sign of the times, the pervasiveness of social media, fantasy football or simply all of the above.

[+] EnlargeManning
Steve Nehf/Getty ImagesWhile Peyton Manning's passing numbers have dipped over the past two games, Broncos head coach John Fox stands by the assertion that there's nothing wrong with Denver's passing game.
But the Denver Broncos have a quarterback in Peyton Manning who is currently tied for the league lead in touchdown passes (36) and a tight end in Julius Thomas who is the league leader in touchdown receptions (12) despite missing the past three games. They have won 10 games, have a three-game winning streak and are No. 5 in the league in scoring. And on Monday, Broncos head coach John Fox still answered a question about concerns with the team's passing attack over the past three games -- all Broncos wins -- with this:

"Our passing game is fine, you never know we might put our foot on the gas and throw it 50 times," Fox said. "I can't really predict what's going to happen because a lot of it is based on what an opponent does. ...There is nothing wrong with our passing game, we've just run it a little bit more the past few weeks. Just like there was nothing wrong with our run game ... when people were blowing fuses on that."

Fox also said:

"Let me just say, I can't think of another quarterback I'd rather have than Peyton Manning," Fox said. "I would remind everybody whether it's two weeks, three weeks, at the end of the day we're not done with our body of work yet. We're just trying to win games. We've been blessed to win three in a row. We're going to lean on whatever we have to lean on and be efficient at both. Unless something else is created you're either running it or you're throwing it."

The Broncos (10-3) have played seven games against teams currently ranked among the league's top 10 in scoring defense. And while the Broncos are also 5-2 in those games, those defenses have effectively loaded the middle of the field against Manning and the Broncos' passing game, haven't sent extra rushers at Manning all that often and taken the go-ahead-and-run-it approach.

Three of those seven teams -- New England, Arizona and Buffalo -- have also each intercepted Manning twice along the way.

Toss in a stunning loss to the St. Louis Rams when the Broncos ran just 10 times, one of those a kneel-down by Manning just before halftime, and the Broncos' concerted effort to find more of a running game before the postseason begins as well as the entire stew of events and injuries in recent weeks have all impacted Manning and the offense's numbers. Julius Thomas hasn't played in the past three games because of a left ankle injury and Demaryius Thomas played in Sunday's win against the Bills with an injured right ankle that had been stepped on by a teammate during last Wednesday's practice.

Two players who have been the team's No. 1 running backs at different points this season -- Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman -- have missed the past three and four games respectively.

Granted, folks aren't used to seeing Manning held for fewer than 180 yards passing in consecutive games -- he had 179 yards in the win against Kansas City and 173 in the win against the Bills on Sunday. It's the first time that's happened since he had 192 and 95 yards passing in the last two games of the 2008 regular season when the Indianapolis Colts had their playoff seed wrapped up.

Sunday was also the first time Manning had not thrown a touchdown pass in a regular-season game since Nov. 14, 2010, against the Cincinnati Bengals. So the questions about Manning's age (38), his arm strength late in the season in the post-spinal-fusion part of his career and the Broncos' general reliance on Manning in putting up historical numbers in the offense over the past three seasons all swirl around the Broncos' past three wins.

"But I think you do whatever is necessary to win the game," said wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. "I'm pretty sure a lot of teams would want to be where we are. ...And Peyton? Peyton can get our offense in the right play every time and everybody knows what he can do throwing the football."

Sunday, in a key AFC West showdown against the Chargers in San Diego, will be another test for the Broncos. Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano has traditionally been more aggressive than most rushing Manning with a variety of defensive looks. Manning, however, has topped 300 yards in his two previous visits to San Diego since he signed with the Broncos in 2012.

"We're going to do what's necessary to win football games, it just so happens over the last few weeks, we've leaned a little more on one side," Fox said. "But as long as it's effective that's what helps you win games."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Denver Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib, who did not play in this past Sunday’s win over the Kansas City Chiefs because of a left hamstring injury, was a full participant in Wednesday’s practice and is on track to be back in the team’s starting lineup this week against the Buffalo Bills.

Talib
Talib
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Talib had taken part on a limited basis last week, but the Broncos elected to hold him out against the Chiefs.

Tight end Julius Thomas, who said Monday he’s closing in on his return to the lineup and "feeling better every day" after missing the last two games with a left ankle injury, took part in the practice on a limited basis. Thomas, who still leads the NFL with 12 touchdown receptions, hasn’t played since suffering a sprained ankle in the first quarter of the Broncos’ Nov. 16 loss to the St. Louis Rams.

Thomas looked to be moving better in drills than he did in practices last week.

The Broncos had to adjust some things to get their usual work done in the passing game in Wednesday’s practice. Thomas was limited, tight end Jacob Tamme did not practice because of a rib injury and Wes Welker, who is not injured, was given a day off by the coaches.

Welker did some position drills with the team, but the Broncos dialed back his work for the remainder of the practice. It's something head coach John Fox has done in the past with some veteran players when the team gets into December. Running back C.J. Anderson, who has rushed for 167 and 168 yards in the Broncos' last two wins, was formally listed on the injury report Wednesday (ankle), but practiced fully and is expected to start against the Bills.

Safety Quinton Carter (knee) and cornerback Kayvon Webster (right shoulder) were held out of Wednesday’s practice. Running backs Montee Ball (right groin) and Ronnie Hillman (left foot) took part in stretching, but then worked off to the side with the team’s strength and conditioning coaches.

Linebacker Lerentee McCray was also held out of practice because of illness.

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