Peyton Manning’s health is no longer the big issue in Denver. Now, it’s whether his offensive teammates can stay on the field with him.
Joel Dreessen, Denver’s best blocking tight end, underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee Monday and is expected to miss the remainder of training camp, and Broncos right tackle Orlando Franklin limped off the field early during Monday’s practice with an injured hip and did not return.
Franklin went down on the first play of team drills. While trainers attended to him, the offense and defense changed directions so they could keep practicing while Franklin was down on the field.
After several minutes, Franklin got up and walked off the field on his own, appearing to favor his right leg.
Franklin’s injury was the latest on Denver’s offensive line. After the third-year veteran went out, guard Louis Vasquez moved into his spot and recently signed Ryan Lilja moved to right guard. Manny Ramirez has been filling in at center while Chris Clark is playing left tackle in place of Ryan Clady, whose surgically repaired right shoulder is still healing.
Clark is set to protect Manning’s blindside Thursday night in the Broncos’ preseason opener at San Francisco.
"We feel good about where we are on the offensive line," coach John Fox insisted. "We’ll find exactly what the details are with Orlando, but I am pretty pleased with where we are. You just hope that works out (well) with Orlando."
Lilja started 12 games at center in Kansas City last year after playing guard his first seven seasons, five of them with Manning in Indianapolis. He got off to a slow start Friday in his first practice but Manning said he expects Lilja to quickly climb the depth chart, and apparently that wouldn’t surprise Fox, either.
"Oh yeah, he’s very, very football smart, very high football character as far as that goes," Fox said. "I’m really more concerned with him right now in getting in hitting shape more than we are whether he knows what he’s doing."
The Broncos are also dealing with injuries at tight end, with both of last year’s starters hobbled.
Dreessen originally injured his left knee this spring while practicing on the team’s turf field while the grass fields were being replaced. He suffered a setback late last week and didn’t dress for the team’s stadium scrimmage Saturday night.
Tight end Jacob Tamme (thigh) also sat out the rain-soaked scrimmage, although he returned to practice on a limited basis Monday.
Tamme and Dreessen combined to catch 93 passes for 911 yards and seven touchdowns last season.
While Dreessen’s roster spot is seemingly secure because of his superb run-blocking skills, Tamme could find himself on the bubble if third-year pros Julius Thomas and Virgil Green continue to impress the coaching staff and keep gaining Manning’s confidence.