The battered Broncos are running out of time and players alike.
With just a short week left in their preseason, the Broncos are scrambling to fix a turnover-prone, mistake-filled and injury-riddled offense that's nowhere near ready for the regular season.
"Time is running out," quarterback Kyle Orton said. "We have got to get some things fixed."
And some players healthy.
The list of Denver's sidelined players include: quarterbacks Orton (finger) and Chris Simms (ankle); wide receivers Jabar Gaffney (thumb) and Brandon Marshall (suspension); running backs Knowshon Moreno (knee) and LaMont Jordan (leg); and right guard Chris Kuper (ankle).
Jordan is the only one of the bunch who might be able to play Thursday night against Arizona, when the Broncos try to avoid their first winless preseason since 1960 with rookie Tom Brandstater or journeyman Ingle Martin under center.
"Look, we'll play with who we can play with," coach Josh McDaniels said. "Life goes on sometimes in this league and you play with who you have."
Orton gashed his right index finger on a follow-through in Denver's 27-17 loss to Chicago on Sunday night, cutting short his middling performance against the team that traded him to the Broncos for Jay Cutler.
In 6 1/2 quarters, the Broncos' starting offense has managed just one touchdown and four Orton interceptions, including one of them left-handed in the end zone.
Orton led Denver to one field goal in six possessions Sunday night, not the kind of final tuneup the Broncos expected out of their new quarterback.
"We only had three points and really were pretty much ineffective the entire night. That is an obvious sign of playing sloppy football," Orton said.
Orton, though, didn't have his preferred supporting cast.
Moreno, the team's top draft pick, hurt a knee in the preseason opener two weeks ago, and the coaching staff didn't recognize his injury and called his number for another carry on the very next play before he limped to the sideline and into the locker room.
Marshall's insubordination resulted in a suspension last week for the remainder of the preseason, and there's no telling when he might make significant contributions because he's basically blown off training camp, admitting he hasn't bothered to learn the playbook while rehabbing from a pulled hamstring.
Gaffney, the Broncos' security blanket because he knows McDaniels' style from their time together in New England, broke a thumb at practice on Friday while reaching back for a pass thrown behind him.
"Jabar, he is a very integral part of our offense for sure," Orton said. "He is kind of a calming factor for the entire unit. We will hopefully get him back as soon as possible and get his presence on the field."
When will Orton himself be back?
Adhering to the club's new policy of hiding the extent of injuries, Orton tried to keep his splinted finger out of sight of the television cameras after the game and declined to talk about his injury, as did McDaniels.
Orton did say he's not worried about missing the opener at Cincinnati on Sept. 13, though.
"No, I will be ready to go," Orton insisted. "I am going to work as hard as I can. I don't know how long I will be out, but mentally I will be ready to go and I think physically I will be, too."
Moreno isn't likely to be ready to play against the Bengals. He missed more than a week of workouts during his holdout, then was rushed into action after just three practices and got hurt on his second carry.
"Obviously, you want to play full strength," Orton said, "and I think when we do, we will have a good team."
Orton's backup, Simms, suffered a high ankle sprain in the second preseason game and will likely miss the first couple of weeks of the season, and Kuper appears to have a high ankle sprain at the very least. Kuper, who had to be helped off the field Sunday night, will likely be replaced by Russ Hochstein, recently acquired from the Patriots.
Denver's goals against the Cardinals this week are to stay healthy, try to force their first turnovers of the preseason and get what they can out of a patchwork offense.
"We are not just going to go through the motions, certainly," McDaniels said. "We have a lot of work to do and we don't have much time to do it."
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