Broncos Update Insider - 12/19

When cornerback Champ Bailey returns to the lineup, the Denver Broncos hope they will be adding an impact player that can take their defense to the next level for the final couple of regular season games and hopefully, a playoff berth.

But after Bailey has missed seven games with a groin injury and the Broncos aren't sure if he'll be back to play the Buffalo Bills this Sunday. The refrain has been the same for weeks - Bailey will practice, but on a limited basis, then work out before the game but he won't go if there's a chance of a setback.

"Just kind of wait and see," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said on Monday. "Just kind of hoping he'll go out here Wednesday and feel a little bit better and hopefully get some playing time in."

Bailey isn't the kind of player who is often on the sideline. He missed only three games in his first nine seasons. But the groin injury he suffered Oct. 20 was severe.

"It's very frustrating," Bailey said. "The only time I missed was with a pulled muscle. I've never had a torn muscle. It's definitely something new to me."

The Broncos haven't completely suffered without Bailey. They are 4-3 without Bailey and their pass defense numbers are actually slightly better without him. But they have vulnerabilities, as the Panthers showed last week.

Steve Smith had 165 yards and Muhsin Muhammad had 70 as the Panthers rolled over the Broncos. While rookie Josh Bell has played surprisingly well since being put in the starting lineup, he isn't Bailey.

"You've got a guy that's never been in the National Football League compared to one who's the best ever (defensive back) to play the game," Shanahan said. "Obviously, it makes a difference."

The Broncos need Bailey to return quickly if he's going to be his usual self in the playoffs. The Broncos will be in the playoffs with one more win or a Chargers loss. Bailey said he thinks after one game he'll be ready, but he knows that it won't be easy.

"Trust me, there is such thing as football shape," Bailey said. "That's the hardest thing to get in to."

The problem is, there isn't absolute certainty when he'll return. He has been practicing on a limited basis since Nov. 13 but hasn't played yet. He sounded more optimistic after a good day of practice Wednesday. Still, he has avoided saying for certain when he'll play.

"As soon as I get ready," Bailey said. "What that is, when that's going to be, I don't know."

NOTES, QUOTES

--The Broncos can clinch the AFC West with a win over Buffalo or a Chargers loss at Tampa Bay, but they say they aren't worried about what San Diego does. They want to win the division themselves.

There is a sense of urgency this week, considering they could avoid having to travel to San Diego for the season finale with the division on the line.

"Obviously we don't want to go down to San Diego and have to play them in their backyard," quarterback Jay Cutler said. "If it does happen, then we will get ready for that game and it will be a big one."

--At least Broncos right guard Chris Kuper has played with a broken hand before. He played with a club cast on his broken right hand in training camp, and now he has a broken bone in his left hand. He said he plans on playing this week.

"I did all right in the preseason with it," Kuper said.

--Receiver Brandon Marshall and quarterback Jay Cutler will each make their first Pro Bowl appearance in their third seasons. Marshall is a starter for the AFC squad and Cutler is a reserve.

"At receiver and quarterback, there are a lot of guys out there that are deserving," Cutler said. "It is something special."

BY THE NUMBERS: 4 -- Teams since the introduction of the 16-game schedule in 1978 that had sole possession of first place in its division after every game. The Broncos can become the fifth if they win the AFC West.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We've given ourselves a chance this Sunday to clinch the division. After that, we'll see what happens." -- CB Dre Bly.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Running back Cory Boyd was on the active roster for one week before he was released and signed back to the practice squad. The Broncos felt after giving him a long look in practice last week that he wasn't ready to play in a game, so they went with Tatum Bell, P.J. Pope and Selvin Young at tailback.

To replace Boyd on the active roster, the Broncos signed safety Herana-Daze Jones.

PLAYER NOTES

--OT Tyler Polumbus is the Broncos backup at both tackle positions. He might be needed this week if Ryan Clady's ankle injury doesn't improve. Polumbus is an undrafted rookie who hasn't played offense in a regular-season game.

--RB P.J. Pope was Denver's most effective running back against Carolina. With so much uncertainty at the position, the Broncos could give Pope more carries this week to see if he can be the answer at tailback. No matter who the top back is, the Broncos are likely to continue splitting carries.

--P Brett Kern has had a solid rookie season. He ranks fifth in the NFL in gross punting average at 47 yards per kick.

--QB Jay Cutler is 238 yards from tying the franchise's single-season record for passing yards, set by Jay Cutler in 2004. With 149 more yards he'll have the third 4,000-yard season in Broncos history.

--LB Jamie Winborn needs one tackle for the second 100-tackle season of his career. He had 104 tackles with the 49ers in 2004.



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