After a three-day respite that represented a second bye weekend for all intents and purposes, the Broncos returned to the practice field Monday for a session that lasted just under an hour and was conducted without linebacker Ian Gold and tight end Daniel Graham, although both were in uniform alongside their teammates.
Head Coach Mike Shanahan offered similar prognoses for Gold and Graham, saying that “maybe” each would be able to return to the practice field this week. Gold suffered a knee injury in Thursday night’s loss at Houston, while Graham incurred a high ankle sprain, the same kind of injury that running back Andre Hall played through at Chicago on Nov. 25 before sitting out the loss at Oakland seven days later.
“Exactly when (Graham) will be able to practice, I’m not really sure,” Shanahan said.
As for the practice itself, safety John Lynch described it as “business as usual,” noting that the team was able to get into deeper work that it might otherwise have been able to in the return from a weekend off because of its collective familiarity with the San Diego Chargers.
As for the mental frame of mind knowing that the team had been eliminated … that was something different, given the fact that few in the locker room are used to playing a game without postseason ramifications or without the playoffs on the horizon, since this will be the Broncos’ first such week of preparation in six years.
“You’ve been clinging to hope,” Lynch said. “It’s reality and you’re at the stage where you say, ‘What are you going to do about it now?’ The only thing I know how to do is go play your tail off these last two weeks and move forward.”
Dre’ Bly experienced five consecutive season-ending scenarios like the one in which the Broncos currently find themelves — one in St. Louis in 2002 and four with the Detroit Lions from 2003-06.
“I’ve been in situations where guys shut it down, guys get into a little funk,” he said. They start putting their house on the market. When they know they’re not in the postseason, or their season is over they put their house on the market and start packing — stuff like that to take their mind off of football.
“We can’t afford to do that.
“You really find out the character of the guys that are here in the last couple of games in a situation like that. I’m going to try to do everything I can do within my power to try to help this team win.”
And no matter whether Gold and Graham are in uniform next Monday, that’s what the coaches ask of the players — and the players ask of each other.
“This is your job,” cornerback Champ Bailey said. “We’re professionals and you don’t want to go out there and put bad tape on. You’ve also got to put it up for the guy next to you. We’ve been through a lot this whole season and there’s no reason to falter now.”