Dumervil, Williams and Bailey return to practice
The Denver Broncos had their top three defensive players on the field together Wednesday for the first time since training camp.
Now, the question is: will they have Elvis Dumervil (shoulder), Champ Bailey (hamstring) and D.J. Williams (elbow) suited up to face the Green Bay Packers (3-0) this weekend?
''We need to be at full throttle against this team,'' Dumervil said.
That's something the Broncos (1-2) haven't been all season.
Williams, their weakside linebacker and leading tackler in three of the last four seasons, went down in the preseason with a dislocated right elbow.
Dumervil, their relentless pass-rusher who led the league in sacks in 2009 before missing last season with a chest injury, got hurt in practice before the opener and played only sparingly against Oakland after aggravating the injury, which kept him out the next weeks.
Bailey, their perennial Pro Bowl left cornerback who added nickel back duties to his plate this year, has also missed the last two games after pulling his left hamstring making a touchdown-saving tackle on Darren McFadden.
''Like anything else, you feel more comfortable in the fight when you have all your troops with you,'' coach John Fox said. ''So I think they were a welcome addition, for sure.''
Although Denver has allowed back-to-back 300-yard passing games and dropped winnable games to the Raiders and Titans, the trio's understudies had held up nicely, thanks to some creativity from defensive coordinator Dennis Allen.
Linebacker Wesley Woodyard leads the team with 28 tackles, cornerback Jonathan Wilhite recorded the first two sacks of his career on well-timed blitzes in each of the last two games and defensive end Jason Hunter has 11 tackles and a sack.
''I think the (second-stringers) stepped up and did a good job,'' Dumervil said. ''But it's always good to have all your guys in there.''
Dumervil also practiced Wednesday and Thursday of last week only to shut it down Friday and miss the Broncos' 17-14 loss at Tennessee. He said that shouldn't be the case this time.
''It felt good today going out to practice, I didn't feel anything, so I'm looking forward to playing this week,'' he said.
Williams was the only one of the three who wasn't limited in practice, but even with his return to health, the Broncos will try to find ways to keep Woodyard on the field as much as possible.
''I was already coming in on third down. But you never know how things go. My job is to come out there and play as hard as I can and what decisions that the coaches make, that's not in my hands,'' Woodyard said. ''So, whether he's out there or I'm out there, we're both going to play hard and that's the only thing that matters.''
Also returning to action Wednesday was defensive tackle Marcus Thomas, who had been sidelined since Aug. 15, when he strained his right pectoral muscle, then pulled a groin during his rehab earlier this month.
''It was pretty good, went well,'' said Thomas, who got hurt on the same day starting nose tackle Ty Warren suffered a season-ending torn triceps. ''I'm just working myself back in, basically getting in better shape. I did a lot of the scout team reps to get back into game shape. It felt pretty good.''
Thomas said he hopes to play Sunday, but that's unlikely given the nearly seven weeks he's been out. His replacement, Kevin Vickerson, has led a patchwork D-line that held Chris Johnson to 21 yards on 13 carries last week.
''That would help our defense tremendously, just to have all our guys back and to be out there as a unit, like how we started in camp,'' Thomas said. ''That's what we built around. Basically right now, we've had guys stepping up. But when everybody gets back, we'll have our full piece together.''
Bailey, Dumervil and Williams have a better chance of leaving the sideline Sunday.
''We're planning for all three of those guys to play,'' Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. ''And if they don't, we'll react accordingly.''
Rodgers said he's been watching film of the Broncos both with and without Dumervil, who led the NFL with 17 sacks two years ago.
''Elvis is a difference-maker, a big-time player,'' Rodgers said. ''He's fun to watch when he's on TV. ... It's exciting to watch Elvis come off the edge and wreak havoc. So, it will be interesting to see what his status is for the game.''
Notes: Hunter played three seasons for the Packers and in `08 he returned a Kyle Orton fumble for his first NFL touchdown, celebrating with a Lambeau Leap. ''He might vaguely remember it. I don't even try to mention it to him,'' Hunter said of the Broncos' QB, who used to play for the Bears. Orton remembers: ''Now that you brought it back up, I do. Turning around and watching a guy go into the end zone is never a good feeling as a quarterback.''
Connect with AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton at http://twitter.com/arniestapleton