Denver Broncos Hot Topics - Friday, Dec. 23

Wesley Duke hadn't caught a pass since high school, but the Denver Broncos figured the rookie tight end would haul in a fade in a tie game at Buffalo. Read about Duke in today's edition of "Hot Topics."

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DENVER BRONCOS
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HOT TOPIC

Wesley Duke hadn't caught a pass since high school, but the Denver Broncos figured the rookie tight end would haul in a fade in a tie game at Buffalo.

Duke, who played college basketball at Mercer University, made a great play on the ball and hauled in the 1-yard touchdown to give Denver a 14-7 lead.

"I don't even remember the last time I scored," Duke said. "It was a great feeling."

Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said he had the play drawn up for Duke for about a month. The problem was that Duke was never on the field. Duke hadn't played on offense all season before the game against the Bills.

Duke had been inactive, off the roster or on the practice squad for 10 of Denver's first 13 games. But he was on the roster because of his enormous potential. Duke has also worked hard to get back to being a football player. He often stays on the field after practice to catch balls from a machine or run routes with backup quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt.

Before the Buffalo game, Shanahan figured it was time to see what Duke could do.

"We don't have a lot of depth at that position so we thought we'd get Wesley some playing time," Shanahan said. "He's been improving each day in practice, so we wanted to get him some reps in the game."

Duke was ecstatic after the game, laughing every time one of his teammates gave him a hard time for his celebration dunk, which got caught on the crossbar.

"I definitely feel like it was the first step," Duke said. "But I've got a lot of improvement. I have to watch the film and get better. This was just one game."

PLAYER NOTES

--QB Jake Plummer attempted 37 passes against the Bills, but he played well in the cold conditions. Plummer completed 20 passes for 259 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. That Plummer handled himself so well in the cold and windy weather bodes well for the Broncos as they go forward towards the playoffs.

--QB Bradlee Van Pelt did not play against Buffalo. He has taken only one snap this season, although he scored a touchdown on that play.

--RB Mike Anderson showed against Buffalo that he still has his legs late in the season. Anderson rushed for 97 yards on 21 carries and had a pair of touchdowns. Anderson had rushed for fewer than 3 yards per carry his previous three games.

--RB Tatum Bell has an outside chance at 1,000 yards this season. He needs 202 yards in Denver's final two games to reach 1,000. Bell is averaging 5.7 yards per carry this season.

--WR Rod Smith had a big game against Buffalo. He is Jake Plummer's top target because he is the most reliable of Denver's receivers. Smith has good hands, runs precise routes and, because he studies so hard in the off-season, he has a great understanding of how defenses are playing him.

--WR Ashley Lelie's 40-yard catch against Buffalo, his only catch of the game, set up a touchdown. The catch was one of Lelie's best. He caught it over his outside shoulder as he was falling down. Lelie is very good at making a play on a deep pass when it is in the air.

--WR Charlie Adams didn't catch a pass against Buffalo. Adams' main value to the Broncos now is as a punt returner, because Darrent Williams is out. If Adams can secure punts and get a few yards, the Broncos will be happy.

--TE Stephen Alexander caught two passes against Buffalo for 12 yards. Surprisingly for a starting tight end in an offense that once featured Shannon Sharpe, that wasn't a bad performance for Alexander. Alexander has caught more than two passes and 20 yards only twice this season. He remains the starter because he is a good blocker.

--K Jason Elam was used for the first kickoff of the game against Buffalo because the Broncos wanted to directional kick against Bills returner Terrence McGee. Elam, who hasn't kicked off regularly in years, kicked it too far to the middle and McGee got a long return. Elam didn't kick off the rest of the game.

--LB D.J. Williams could continue to see his playing time increase as the Broncos use their base defense more. An injury to cornerback Darrent Williams has left the Broncos a bit thin in their nickel defense, and Denver's speed at linebacker can compensate for deficiencies in the secondary.

--CB Domonique Foxworth played pretty well against Buffalo in place of Darrent Williams. Foxworth and Williams weren't separated on the depth chart by much before Williams' injury. Foxworth has had a very good rookie season and has been a steal as a late third-round pick.

--S Sam Brandon's versatility has helped the Broncos this season. Brandon often plays in the nickel defense instead of a third cornerback. Brandon matches up well with tight ends, but he also has enough natural cover skills that he can defend receivers.

AROUND THE LEAGUE: For the first time all season, injuries are becoming a major concern for the Indianapolis Colts.

As the Colts begin short-week preparations for Saturday's road game with the Seattle Seahawks, more names are popping up on the team's injury list than was initially expected.

In addition to right tackle Ryan Diem, who is expected to miss several weeks recovering from a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee; defensive end Robert Mathis (foot), and defensive tackle Corey Simon (foot), Indianapolis could very well be without the services of linebacker Cato June (ankle/knee/sports hernia), safety Bob Sanders (back), defensive end Dwight Freeney (foot), defensive tackle Montae Reagor (knee) and cornerback Nick Harper (ankle) for this week's game with the Seahawks as well as the regular-season finale with the Arizona Cardinals.

According to team president Bill Polian, Sanders - who suffered strained muscles in his back during Sunday's loss to San Diego - may miss the final two games and Freeney would play Saturday only if necessary. Reagor was scheduled to undergo a magnetic resonance imaging test to determine if he will have to miss Saturday's game.

Add to the list a swollen knee for quarterback Peyton Manning and a non-displaced fracture to the right hand of wide receiver Marvin Harrison. Manning has started 126 consecutive games for the Colts and Harrison has started 153 of 158 career games in Indianapolis.

Polian didn't say which of Manning's knees was affected, but said team physicians didn't consider the injury to be serious.

"How we play him (against Seattle) remains to be seen," he said. Harrison's hand will take about two weeks to heal but he could play with the injury. A non-displaced fracture involves some type of fracture line without bones separating. He caught eight passes for 135 yards after he incurred the injury in the Chargers' game.

"We know Marvin heals quicker than anybody this side of Superman," Polian said, "so I wouldn't be a bit surprised if he plays. But given our druthers, maybe not."

Colts coach Tony Dungy will make the final decision on how many of the starters will take the field this week.

"The possibility of injuries does go through your mind," Dungy said. "But it's football and that's why you have to have a plan and that's what we'll do. We'll have a certain amount of time we're going to play for each guy and we'll stick to that in these next two games."

Dungy said that he doesn't relish the thought of telling Harrison that he may be held out this week.

"It won't be fun to tell him," Dungy said with a smile. "In his mind, he feels like he's good to go."



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