ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Broncos will be without their top return specialist against the Falcons.
Denver announced Saturday that wide receiver Diontae Spencer had been downgraded to out for Sunday's contest. He was previously listed as doubtful.
Spencer has not played since suffering a shoulder injury in Week 6 against the Patriots. Against the Chargers, cornerback Bryce Callahan handled punt return duties while Tyrie Cleveland returned kicks.
Special Teams Coordinator Tom McMahon said Friday that Cleveland would continue to handle kickoff responsibilities while either Callahan or KJ Hamler would return punts.
"When we put Bryce out there, the biggest thing we're trying to do is just catch that football," McMahon said. "With his value on defense, we've got to get the ball caught. The week before with the drop that KJ had — it scared us a little bit, but it's one of those things where he's just got to get back there and take reps. He's a second-round pick, he's got good talent, it's just catching NFL punts and the only way you're going to do that is to get out and play. He's going to get those opportunities sooner rather than later, and he's done a great job of practicing and getting better and better. Where we're at from a punt-return standpoint is, we've got to get this ball caught and get some return yards. We've got to throw him out and let him play. From a kick-return standpoint, Tyrie is doing a good job. He gets tackled on the last play and we don't block the three. So, we've got to get better at that spot too. I like what Tyrie does. He brings us some speed and he's got some size. He reminds me a little bit of Josh Cribbs — but he's not Cribbs yet; he's got a long ways to go. Josh Cribbs was a great player for us in Indy."
The Broncos previously ruled out cornerback A.J. Bouye, which should elevate Callahan's responsibilities if he's able to play. Callahan is listed as questionable with an ankle injury.
Denver also announced that the team would elevate safety Alijah Holder from the practice squad to the game-day roster as a COVID-19 Replacement. Holder will be able to revert to the practice squad after the game without clearing waivers.
The Broncos will be able to identify a player as a COVID-19 Replacement for as long as they have a player on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. Both guard Graham Glasgow and defensive end Shelby Harris are currently on the list, which means the Broncos were eligible to elevate another player. The Broncos are also permitted to elevate two other practice squad players for standard elevations.
If either Glasgow or Harris remain on the Reserve/COVID-19 list next week, the Broncos could elevate Holder again but may also designate a different player.
In an additional transaction on Saturday, the Broncos placed DE Jurrell Casey on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. Casey has been on injured reserve with a biceps injury since after Week 3 and is expected to miss the entire season.