Broncos lose three players in one unfortunate practice

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The Giants’ curse rubbed off on the Broncos, Sunday night at Mile High. After starting the season remarkably healthy, the Broncos can’t seem to ditch the injury bug.

On Thursday, Donald Stephenson was named the Broncos’ interim starter at right tackle, but just hours later, he tore his calf.

Injuries are stacking up across the Broncos' roster, particularly on the offensive line.

Stephenson, the Broncos’ swing tackle, will be out for the foreseeable future with the calf injury. He was slated to replace starter Menelik Watson, who suffered his own calf injury in the Broncos’ loss Sunday night. Watson is listed as week-to-week and has had trouble with his calf in the past.

Allen Barbre will start in place of Watson until he returns from his injury. Barbre has split time with Max Garcia at right guard this season. The 33-year-old has started four games at right tackle in the last four years.

“We have some options there,"head coach Vance Joseph said. "We’ll be fine. Don’t worry. You guys seem more worried than I am."

The Broncos are expected Elijah Wilkinson from their practice squad to add depth to the offensive line. The undrafted rookie started 33 games at right tackle for UMass.

On the other side of the ball, Corey Nelson, the Broncos’ third inside linebacker, and coverage specialist, suffered an elbow injury during the same practice Thursday that will sideline him for the rest of the season. Nelson had also played 80 percent of Denver’s special teams snaps this season.

“Corey has had a great year, both on defense and special teams,” Joseph said. “That’s a big loss for us.”

Zaire Anderson is the next man up for the Broncos at inside linebacker. Now two years into his NFL career, the former undrafted rookie should see a spike in playing time. Nelson played nearly 10 defensive snaps per game over the first six weeks of the season, and much of that responsibility should fall on the shoulders of Anderson.

Joseph said Jerrol Garcia-Williams will take Nelson’s roster spot, now that Nelson is on injured reserve. After beginning his rookie season on Denver’s practice squad, the undrafted linebacker out of Hawaii should see significant opportunities in the special teams game.

The injuries didn't end there, though. Rookie receiver River Cracraft, who the Broncos signed to their practice squad Tuesday, also watched his season end Thursday. Cracraft tore his hamstring on his third day in Denver. After tearing his ACL last season at Washington State and missing the final three games of the season, the slot receiver was cleared to play a few weeks ago and made his way to Denver this week as a college free agent.

The Broncos signed Cracraft to fill out the practice squad after Hunter Sharp was called up. Sharp will help replace Emmanuel Sanders and Isaiah McKenzie at wide receiver, until they return from injury.

To fill Cracraft's opening on the practice squad, the Broncos signed wide receiver Tim Patrick. Patrick, a 6-foot-5 rookie out of Utah, is a fast receiver whose strength is making contested catches downfield. However, there are significant injury concerns surrounding Patrick, as well. He missed 17 games in three seasons with Utah.

In more positive news, both Shane Ray and Jake Butt have impressed since returning from injury on Monday. Ray is still on track to open his season next week against Kansas City, his hometown, and Butt is available immediately.

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