David Zalubowski/Associated Press file photo
David Zalubowski/Associated Press file photo
ENGLEWOOD – Linebacker D.J. Williams was excused from the Denver Broncos’ practice for personal reasons Thursday morning, a day after being convicted on two charges in a Denver court.
He was one of nine players who didn’t participate in the Broncos’ last training camp practice that was open to the public, a workout in which two more players got hurt, continuing a run of tough luck at Dove Valley this week.
Williams was found guilty Wednesday of driving while ability-impaired and driving without his headlights, the offense that prompted police to stop him near downtown Denver about 3 a.m. on Nov. 12, 2010.
Already facing a six-game drug suspension to start the season, Williams is subject to further punishment from the NFL because of his conviction on the impaired driving charge. The league said it will review the matter.
The leading tackler in five of his eight seasons in Denver, Williams hasn’t been working with the starters during camp while the Broncos prepare his replacement, Wesley Woodyard, for the season.
Asked if Williams will play in any of the preseason games, coach John Fox said, “I haven’t decided that yet. We’re bringing him along, getting him ready for the season. And we’re about ready to go into a suspension time at the end of this month, and we’ll go from there.”
Despite Williams’ off-the-field issues, he’s highly valued by the Broncos coaching staff for his technically sound play, and he’s still listed as the starter at weakside linebacker on their depth chart.
The Broncos have been hit hard by injuries this week with two starters – defensive end Jason Hunter and right guard Chris Kuper – suffering injuries that required surgery. Hunter tore his right triceps and likely is out for the year, and Kuper broke his left forearm and will miss up to six weeks.
“It’s hurtful to lose Jason Hunter,” Woodyard said. “He’s one of those guys that has a motor every day. Our coaches joke with him that he’s one of the type of guys that gets excited driving to work. He’s in the parking lot, ‘Let’s go! Let’s go!’ He texted me last night and said he was going to miss us, so we’re going to miss him.”
Starting defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson (concussion) and backup cornerback Joshua Moore (hamstring) went down with injuries Thursday morning.
The linebacker corps especially has been hit hard.
In addition to the Williams saga, rookie Danny Trevathan (ankle) and veteran Keith Brooking (hamstring) have been sidelined. Both were getting snaps at Williams’ position behind Woodyard.
“Sometimes, setbacks for one player are setups for another player,” Fox said. “In my experience, we’ve discovered a lot of players in those situations, so I don’t think we have any more injuries than anybody else in camp, it’s just part of camp.”
Rookie Derek Wolfe has replaced Hunter at left defensive end in the base defense, and sixth-year pro Manny Ramirez has replaced Kuper at right guard while also working in some snaps at center with J.D. Walton.
It’s not like Ramirez has to introduce himself to quarterback Peyton Manning. He’s been working plenty with the starters while Kuper worked his way back from a dislocated left ankle and broken left leg.
“Well, Manny has been in there. I know it’s probably more critical for J.D. and for Orlando (Franklin) to be comfortable with Manny because he’s right in between them and making calls together,” Manning said. “And so, the fact that he has had an extended amount of work going back to OTAs will be beneficial to him.
“But out of respect for Kupe, it’s a tough loss for the short period of time. He’s a veteran player, and obviously I’m getting to know him as a teammate, but I can tell he’s a good leader and I know he’s a tough guy. And I know he’ll rehab quickly and be back before the docs even say.”
Ramirez is a sixth-year pro with 20 games of NFL experience, including 15 starts with Detroit.
“It’s sad the way it is, but it is an opportunity and I’m going to take advantage of it,” Ramirez said. “My main goal is to make sure that I can get in there and they can count on me to not miss a step.”
Manning and the rest of the first-team offense will play about three series Saturday night against Seattle in what promises to be an electric atmosphere for the four-time MVP’s home debut.
“Heck, having 41,000 for a scrimmage, and we were just playing the Broncos that day, so hopefully against Seattle it’ll be an even bigger crowd,” Manning said. “And having played here as an opponent, I know how loud and emotional and passionate the crowd is here in Denver. So, it’ll be nice to be on the home side of it.”
Manning appears recovered from a nerve problem in his neck that caused weakness in his throwing arm and required four surgeries, sidelined him all of last season and led to his release from the Indianapolis Colts after 14 seasons.
Because he wasn’t touched by the Chicago Bears in his cameo appearance in the preseason opener, the biggest question mark still hanging over Manning is whether he can take a hit.
“It’s not hanging over me,” Manning said. “It seems to be a hot topic. I had a lady the other day who told me, ‘Everybody can’t wait to see you get hit.’ Thank you. ... I have played football for a long time and when it happens, I plan on getting up and hopefully completing a pass on the next play and moving the chains and at some point hopefully you all can stop asking me that question.”