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The Morning After: Preseason Week 4

Posted Sep 3, 2010

Correll Buckhalter and Ryan Clady saw their first action of the preseason on Thursday in Minnesota. The veterans helped the Broncos first-team offense to an early score in the 31-24 loss.


ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- On the Broncos' first offensive play of Thursday's final preseason game, Correll Buckhalter settled in beside Kyle Orton in a shotgun formation for his first snap of the preseason. Within seconds, Buckhalter was streaking up the left side after catching a screen pass, picking up 11 yards on his first touch against an opponent since the 2009 season finale.
 
Buckhalter and Ryan Clady returned for the Broncos in the 31-24 loss, getting their first action after missing the first three preseason contests due to injury. In limited time, the pair helped the first-team offense score a touchdown on one of its two drives 10 days before the regular season opener in Jacksonville.
 
"It was good to get those guys back and just get a little bit of work together before we get going," Orton said.
 
Throughout the preseason, Head Coach Josh McDaniels said he would be cautious with his veterans returning from injury. Both Buckhalter and Clady returned to the Dove Valley practice field last week, and after the players continued to sit out Sunday's win against Pittsburgh, the team decided they were ready to go on Thursday.
 
Orton said he appreciated the chance for his teammates to work out any "rustiness" now, rather than next week in Jacksonville.
 
Buckhalter went down on the first day of training camp and rejoined the running back corps for practice last Tuesday. The running back coming off a career season in 2009 finished with three carries for 3 yards and two catches for 26 yards.
 
Clady came off the reserve/non-football injury list last week. The offensive lineman progressed quickly enough in practice that McDaniels felt comfortable putting him back in game action on Thursday, and the Pro Bowler jumped back in at his familiar position anchoring the left side of the offensive line.
 
"I'm glad we got him in there," McDaniels said. "When you haven't played in a little while, there's always those first few plays that seem like the speed of the game is a little quicker than you remembered it. But I thought he did fine. I'm really glad we got that part out of the way for him and I look forward to getting ready for Jacksonville."
 
On the other hand, Knowshon Moreno was not quite ready to get back into the offensive fray. The second-year running back dressed for the first time this preseason and warmed up but did not see action.
 
Moreno returned to the practice field this week for the first time since the opening day of training camp. McDaniels said Moreno continues to show progress and as he nears full recovery, the team saw no reason to chance a setback before the regular season begins.
 
"It was good to get him out there and get going -- the same thing with practice," McDaniels said. "We feel like he's close. Every day is a better day for us. At that point, if we're not ready to go, then I think the best thing for us to do is not to take the risk."
 
SMITH SHINES
 
After Perrish Cox and Syd'Quan Thompson picked up interceptions in Sunday's win against Pittsburgh, the cornerbacks said the young members of the secondary have enjoyed feeding off each other's big plays early this season.
 
In Thursday's preseason finale in Minnesota, Alphonso Smith joined in the fun.
 
Smith registered an interception and a fumble recovery, in addition to tying for the team lead with four tackles in the Broncos' 31-24 loss. The second-year cornerback returned his third-quarter interception 51 yards to the Vikings 6-yard line and came up with Darius Reynaud's fourth quarter fumble that gave the Broncos a final chance to go for the game-tying touchdown.
 
"(Smith) was aggressive," McDaniels said. "He had the interception that he took back to the 6-yard line and made some tackles, too. We feel like we've got good corners."
 
With the starters out before the end of the first quarter, it was a busy night for Smith. He saw extensive action in the secondary and also had a punt return and a kick return.
 
The Wake Forest product also showed the ability to bounce back. He fell down in coverage on Minnesota's final score, a 63-yard touchdown pass from Joe Webb to Javon Walker, before coming back to recover the late fumble, which was forced by Kevin Alexander with the Vikings trying to run out the clock and seal the win.
 
McDaniels said he's enjoyed watching his young defensive backs compete in training camp and during the preseason. Those battles exemplify the competitive atmosphere the head coach hopes to foster across the roster.
 
Amid that competitive situation, Smith saved his best performance of the preseason for the final game.
 
"We've got a lot of young guys that are still learning how to play in this league and (Smith is) one of them," McDaniels said. "He did a nice job most of the night tonight."
 
MISSION ACCOMPLISHED
 
The Broncos didn't get a chance to go against Brett Favre or Adrian Peterson or any of the offensive stars that helped Minnesota reach the NFC title game a year ago. The Vikings open regular season play in less than a week with a rematch against New Orleans, which ended their 2009 season a win short of the Super Bowl.
 
But with several extra days to rest before the Broncos' Sept. 12 season opener, Kyle Orton and the first-team offense continued to build on their impressive 2010 preseason. Orton finished the finale 5-of-8 passing for 56 yards, leading the first unit to a touchdown on its second and final drive of the night. After Thursday's game, the quarterback reflected on a clearly successful four-game preseason slate for himself and the offense.
 
"I'm happy that it's over -- I came out healthy," Orton said. "You want to get everything going but you want to come out healthy and I'm glad that I did that. Nobody knows what we've got. We don't know what we've got. I just know the feeling that we have on offense is excited."
 
Orton finished the preseason 38-of-57 passing for 397 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions, good for a 95.4 passer rating.
 
Even without the Broncos' top two running backs and Clady for much of the preseason, the sixth-year quarterback led at least one touchdown drive in each game. His four touchdown passes went to four different receivers.
 
Against the Vikings, Orton rebounded from a sack that derailed the opening drive to lead a 10-play, 58-yard touchdown march, capped by LenDale White's second rushing touchdown of the preseason. McDaniels said that performance was enough to accomplish his top offensive goal for the night: to build more momentum heading into the season opener.
 
"(Orton) has good command of what we're doing and he showed it again tonight," McDaniels said. "He really stood in there in the face of a couple rushes, made a couple nice throws and got us in the end zone."
 
Now Orton, who spent the final three quarters of Thursday's game watching Tim Tebow and Brady Quinn battle for the right to be his backup, said the offense just has to figure out how to keep that success going into the regular season. After posting career numbers in his first season as a Bronco, the quarterback feels like the offense is well-positioned for even greater success this time around.
 
"I think we're excited to get this thing going," Orton said. "We've practiced well. We've played well in the preseason, now it's just can we take that next step and be effective for 16 straight weeks, which good offenses do. We'll see if we can keep that consistency, but I know we've got a bunch of guys on that side of the ball that are excited to get this thing going."

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