Broncos Update Insider - Tuesday, Nov. 16

The Broncos didn't panic when they had to replace Shannon Sharpe at tight end, and they haven't ended up missing him as much as expected. Sharpe, who retired from the Broncos in May to take a job as a studio analyst on CBS' "The NFL Today," held almost every significant tight end receiving record when he left the game.

But Broncos coach Mike Shanahan kept an even keel when Sharpe suddenly retired, although it was late in the free-agency process and after the NFL Draft when it happened.

"I looked at it like a guy going down on the first play of practice, once the summer program started," Shanahan said. "So we had a chance to get some reps for these guys that normally wouldn't get reps, because Shannon wasn't here."

The Broncos felt good enough about their trio of Jeb Putzier, Dwayne Carswell and Patrick Hape -- none of which were household names as pass catchers -- that they released Jed Weaver and Byron Chamberlain right before the regular season started.

Putzier has a pair of touchdowns this season and is averaging 16.2 yards per catch on 18 receptions. Carswell and Hape have combined for four touchdown receptions and have been key figures in Denver's running game, opening holes for Reuben Droughns.

Combined, the trio has 34 catches for 440 yards and six touchdowns, which is pretty good production from the tight end position.

What has been interesting is that when Droughns went from fullback to tailback, Carswell and Hape have taken over lead blocking duties on many plays, something Carswell had never done in his career and Hape had limited experience at.

"I thought Dwayne Carswell has stepped up and has done a great job coming from the tight end position to the fullback position," Shanahan said. "Patrick Hape was doing the same thing."

NOTES AND QUOTES

The Broncos returned from their bye week Monday, relaxed and ready to get back to competing for the AFC West title over the final seven weeks of the season.

"I think everybody enjoyed their time off," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. "It was nice to get away, mentally as much as physically."

Shanahan said the team didn't ease its way back to practice, spending about 45 minutes in pads on Monday.

--The Broncos are still waiting for Trevor Pryce to get well enough to return to the lineup. Pryce has an unresponsive nerve in his hip, and has played only one game this season. Pryce is out this week, and after that he could come back at any time, if he comes back at all this season.

"There's a chance he'll return before the end of the season," Shanahan said. "Is it in a week or six weeks? Nobody knows."

PLAYER NOTES

--RB Cecil Sapp is a popular local player -- he played at Colorado State -- and now he's getting a chance on the active roster. Promoted from the practice squad after Quentin Griffin's season-ending injury, Sapp can fill in at tailback if needed and provides fullback depth.

--CB Champ Bailey hasn't played an offensive snap since early in the season. Bailey had a couple drops when he played receiver, and the Broncos have let him concentrate on cornerback. But it's possible Bailey could see time at receiver later in the season because he's such an explosive athlete.

--RB Reuben Droughns has proven to be a capable tailback, and he can catch the ball out of the backfield too. Droughns has 21 receptions this season, which is fourth on the team behind Rod Smith, Ashley Lelie and Darius Watts.

--P Micah Knorr had his first blocked punt of the 2004 season against Houston, but it wasn't his first blocked punt of his career. Knorr has now had six punts blocked in 70 career games, including two blocked punts last season.

--S John Lynch did not practice on Monday, but the Broncos think he will be able to practice Wednesday and could play this week against New Orleans. Lynch has a stress fracture near his tailbone.

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