Wednesday Donkey Report

The latest from Denver, as the Broncos prepare to take on the Browns and their new quarterback on Thursday.

The Broncos' running game wasn't going particularly well, coming off a 14-yard game against Miami, and that was before two season-ending injuries at tailback.

Michael Pittman and Andre Hall are done for the season, leaving the Broncos to wonder who will play tailback against the Cleveland Browns.

"We can't get down on ourselves and have to know there's people who can step up and do the job," fullback Peyton Hillis said.

Rookie Ryan Torain is the only tailback standing upright unless P.J. Pope, who was promoted from the practice squad after Pittman and Hall were put on injured reserve, is counted. Torain had three carries for 1 yard in his NFL debut on Sunday. He didn't even play in the preseason because of an elbow injury he suffered in early August.

Broncos coach Mike Shanahan has been reluctant to push Torain into a big role but admitted that 20 carries is possible for Torain if there aren't any other options.

"If he's the only guy out there, he has a good chance," Shanahan said. "I wouldn't want to put him in that situation so quickly, obviously being out for three months."

Selvin Young might have been Denver's best option, but he still isn't 100 percent because of a groin injury. Young was limited in practice two days before Denver was to play Cleveland in a Thursday night game, so his availability is uncertain. He hurt the groin on Oct. 5 and hasn't been through a full practice since.

Because of Young's injury, the injuries to Pittman and Hall left the Broncos very thin. Pittman has an inflammation around his spinal cord, and it would have taken him weeks to heal. Hall has a broken left hand.

As perhaps the best option remaining at tailback, Torain said he was ready to carry the ball as many times as the Broncos needed him to.

"I think I can carry the load," Torain said. "I was working out as I was hurt, getting back healthy with rehab and treatment, and I stayed up with my conditioning."

One issue with Torain is if he is ready to play in passing situations. The Broncos didn't use him much in the second half against Miami because they were forced to throw the ball and the coaches didn't think Torain was ready in those sets.

Torain said he was in all of the meetings and at practices when he was hurt, so he felt ready to play on all downs.

"To myself, I feel 100 percent confident," Torain said. "It's just I have to get the coaches to be confident in myself. I just have to keep working hard."

SERIES HISTORY: 22nd meeting. The Broncos lead the series 16-5 and have had some historic playoff battles against the Browns. Denver beat Cleveland in the AFC championship games at the end of the 1986, 1987 and 1989 seasons. Denver won the last meeting in 2006, taking a 17-7 decision at Cleveland.

NOTES, QUOTES

--The Broncos are expecting that the Browns will be fired up behind QB Brady Quinn, who will get his first start Thursday after the team benched Derek Anderson.

"I think that team will definitely rally around him. The guys I know on that team, they like (Quinn), they have always liked him, and when he gets in there I'm pretty sure he'll be ready to do the job," Broncos LB Jamie Winborn said.

Winborn said the Broncos have a lot of respect for Quinn's ability.

"Even though he hasn't played a lot, I thought he should have been drafted a lot higher than he went," Winborn said. "He's got a lot of talent."

--Losing OLB D.J. Williams is a tough blow for a Broncos team that has lost four of five games. The Broncos will be without Williams for four weeks, but they could at least be happy that his injury didn't end his season.

"He feels in good spirits, and he feels confident he can come back and make a healthy return," Winborn said. "It's one of those injuries that you really don't know when, it's on a how-he-feels basis. We just hope we can get him back as soon as possible."

--After Miami beat Denver on Sunday, Dolphins OLB Joey Porter ripped WR Brandon Marshall, saying the Dolphins got in his head and took him out of his game. Marshall responded a couple of days later, calling out Porter.

"All those muscles are popcorn muscles -- he's soft," Marshall said. "We hear stories floating around the league all the time about him as far as in the nightclubs dancing with his shirt off like a girl, or in the playground getting beat up back in California. He's one of those guys that, no matter how big he is, he still can get knocked on his butt. He's soft. He's soft at heart. You can tell the way he talks."

BY THE NUMBERS: 8-2 -- Denver's all-time regular-season record at Cleveland. That doesn't count one road playoff win against the Browns.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I just look at it for both teams. It's hard on us and them -- it's the same." -- Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, on having a short week before playing at Cleveland on Thursday.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

After the Broncos put RBs Michael Pittman and Andre Hall on injured reserve, RB P.J. Pope was promoted off the practice squad. Pope has been with the Broncos since the start of the regular season. Denver signed him to the practice squad after Chicago let him go. He should have a decent feel for the offense, and coach Mike Shanahan said he has a chance to get some playing time.

Denver also signed running back Cory Boyd to the practice squad to add some depth.

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--LB Mario Haggan was signed to the active roster because LB Boss Bailey is out for the season and LB D.J. Williams will miss four weeks. Haggan played five seasons with Buffalo and could get some playing time once he gets the defense down.

--S Roderick Rogers was promoted from the practice squad. He was brought up from the practice squad late last season but couldn't make the active roster out of training camp. He was promoted because Marlon McCree will miss three to four weeks.

--LB Tyson Smith was signed to the practice squad. The Broncos are short at linebacker because of injuries to Boss Bailey and D.J. Williams.

--RB Michael Pittman was on a one-year contract with the Broncos and is now on injured reserve. Pittman said he wants to come back next year if the organization will have him back, and he hopes that he proved himself with a good half-season before he got hurt.

--LB Wesley Woodyard played well in the preseason and has done well on special teams, and with D.J. Williams out for four weeks, the Broncos might want to take a look at the undrafted rookie on defense. Woodyard was a standout player in college at Kentucky.

GAME PLAN: The Broncos are thin at tailback because of injuries, so they could have a pass-heavy offensive attack out of necessity. Denver will try to get a running game going against Cleveland, which ranks near the bottom of the NFL in rush defense, but they also don't want to give rookie Ryan Torain a full workload if he's the top option at tailback.

Last week against Miami, the Broncos' defensive plan was to take away the run and the Dolphins' top receiver, Ted Ginn, and they did a good job in both accounts. Miami's second receiver, Greg Camarillo, had a big day because the defense was rolled to the other side. If the Broncos use a similar approach, Braylon Edwards might not have a big day, but other receivers could.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

Cleveland OLT Joe Thomas vs. Broncos DE Elvis Dumervil. Dumervil faces one of the best in the NFL in Thomas. Dumervil has been playing well lately -- he had a sack against Miami but the Broncos decided to take a holding penalty instead -- and if he can get a rush against Thomas, it would be huge for the defense.

Broncos interior line vs. Browns DT Shaun Rogers. Last year, when Rogers was with Detroit, he wreaked havoc on Denver, having a huge game in a blowout Lions win. The Broncos need to keep Rogers from penetrating against their zone-blocking scheme if they hope to have an effective running game.

INJURY IMPACT: TE Tony Scheffler was limited in practice Tuesday. He has a chance to play Thursday, but he isn't 100 percent healed from a groin injury.

RB Selvin Young, who has a groin injury, was limited Tuesday. The Broncos are desperate at tailback because of injuries, so even if he isn't 100 percent, the team probably would like to activate him for Thursday's game.

LB D.J. Williams has a third-degree sprain of the MCL in his left knee. He will miss four weeks.

S Marlon McCree's high ankle sprain will keep him out three-to-four weeks. Calvin Lowry likely will start in his place.



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