ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Going into training camp, it was clear that center J.D. Walton was headed for the physically-unable-to-perform list. His June surgery meant he wouldn't practice until at least October; there was no reason for the Broncos to push his rehabilitation, and the PUP designation buys him needed time to heal, while saving the Broncos a spot on the 53-man roster.
But a season without Quinton Carter on the field wasn't what the third-year safety or the Broncos hoped. Heading into training camp, there was more buzz about his potential return to the safety corps being the element that shook up the depth chart at the position. But as he struggled to find his form in his first work since his knee surgery last September, Duke Ihenacho stepped into the void, and has now started the last three games.
The Broncos know what Carter can do when he's healthy; he has good instincts for the position, is aggressive and beat out Rahim Moore for a starting job as a rookie. He punctuated that season with interceptions in both of Denver's playoff games in January 2012. That glimpse provided enough promise to justify more time to wait and see whether Carter's knee will allow him to display the form he demonstrated in spurts as a rookie.
Placing Carter on injured reserve also appears to crystallize the depth chart at safety, especially with Quentin Jammer getting the bulk of his repetitions at cornerback on Saturday against the Rams. Jammer can still be an option at safety and provide some flexibility, but likely would be nothing more at safety than the fifth option behind Moore, Ihenacho and backup tandem Mike Adams and David Bruton.
Walton could come in handy if the injuries that have battered the team in recent weeks persist into the regular season.
The Broncos could face a roster crunch and a difficult decision if and when Walton comes off the physically-unable-to-perform list, but if there's a season-threatening injury to one of the interior offensive linemen on the 53-man roster, that logjam would resolve itself naturally.
And Walton has longer than October to heal. Players on the PUP list can begin practicing at any point following Week 6 and up to Week 11; there is then a 21-day period where a PUP player does not count against the 53-man roster while he practices. So conceivably, the Broncos could hold off on adding Walton to the 53-man roster until Week 15.
Should Walton heal well enough to return, he would bring experience; no matter who starts at center in the next three months, Walton will still have the most starting experience at the position, thanks to his 38 regular-season and playoff starts from 2010-12. If he's healthy, he can provide a nice boost; if he plays, he can enhance his value for the 2014 offseason, which is a crucial juncture for him given that his rookie contract expires after this year.