MARSHALL, HARRIS OVERLOOKED**
Though his defense already leads the league in yards per play, Jack Del Rio will be happy to have Danny Trevathan back in the fold, if the linebacker is activated off of short-term IR this week. Trevathan led Del Rio's unit in tackles a year ago before missing all but one game and two snaps this season due to separate compaction fractures in his knee.
But just because the third-year linebacker is returning doesn't mean Del Rio is disappointed with what he's seen from Trevathan's replacement.
"I would say he's playing at a Pro Bowl level, for an inside backer in this league," the defensive coordinator said of Brandon Marshall, who leads the team in tackles this season. "He's very productive, very active. He does a lot, doesn't come off the field. He's had a Pro Bowl kind of year."
Marshall wasn't among the top ten Pro Bowl vote-getters as of Wednesday and likely won't get enough recognition by the end of the season to procure a spot.
"What happens is typically you wake people up in the first year and then the next year they vote for you, but who knows?" Del Rio said. "He's definitely played very well for us and we're a good defense, so he's been central to a lot of what we're doing."
Fans have fewer excuses for leaving a different Bronco off their ballots: Chris Harris Jr. After Harris' terrific 2013 season was ended by a partially torn ACL against the Chargers in the playoffs, it seems voters who should have been woken up a year ago have fallen back asleep on Harris, who is Pro Football Focus' top-rated corner on the season.
"It's just name recognition," Del Rio said. "I'm not really sure (why he isn't getting more votes), but I'm sure happy that we have him. He's a good football player, he's ultra competitive. I love the way he brings it every day. Sometimes that just takes a while to catch up. But we certainly appreciate it."
Though Harris and Marshall haven't yet captured the attention of national fans, public voting only makes up a third of the Pro Bowl selection process, so there are opportunities to close the gap. As the fan voting nears a close, both players are finishing strong. Each nabbed an interception and was given a game ball from Sunday's win over the Bills.
KEY CONTRIBUTORS IN SECONDARY
While Marshall and Harris grabbed game balls, another Bronco who usually spends more time on special teams led the team in tackles against Buffalo. David Bruton Jr. dwarfed his defensive snaps from the season to that point (14) with 61 on Sunday, and offered the best performance that either Del Rio or Head Coach John Fox has seen from the safety since they arrived in Denver.
Demaryius Thomas was back at practice on Thursday. Check out photos from the Broncos' practice as they prepare for the Chargers.
"He's a very bright guy, he's an athletic guy, he's a star on special teams, but he's a good player on defense," Del Rio said. "We typically have him in a reserve role. Last week he was called into a bigger role and he played well. He played as well as he's played since I've been here.
"And I'm happy for him because he approaches it the right way, he works hard, he's a student of the game, he understands where he belongs, how it all ties together, great communicator. So I'm happy for him but happy for us that we got that kind of performance."
Another member of Denver's secondary, Bradley Roby, didn't have his best game against the Bills but continues to make strides across his rookie season. Del Rio noted that while the rookie cornerback had "some sloppiness with technique" as he was targeted by Kyle Orton, Roby has produced a strong body of work in an important role on the defense.
"He's had a heck of a year," Del Rio said. "You talk about a guy that came in as a rookie -- obviously he was selected high, high expectations -- but I don't know that anybody could have predicted that he could have played the role that he's played and played as well as he's played for us.
"It hasn't been perfect, but it never is. And that's what I've explained to him. As long as you're competing, playing with great technique and going after it every week, you'll get better, you'll learn from the experiences you have and I think that's what he's doing right now and I'm sure glad we have him."
The injury report is getting longer as the Broncos' season progresses. But the Broncos' offense is finding ways to win despite missing key playmakers like Julius Thomas, Ronnie Hillman and Montee Ball.
Thomas, who has missed nearly four whole games, was a key part of the Broncos' success in the red zone early in the season with nine red-zone touchdowns – which still leads the league. Sans Thomas, the Broncos were unable to get into the red zone in St. Louis and finished 1-of-7 in Kansas City.
But the Broncos were 3-of-3 on Sunday and have found ways to win without Thomas, and with his status unclear for San Diego, the Broncos will continue to press on.
"If we can get him up again, obviously he opens it up a little bit for us," Gase said. "We'll just kind of see how this game works out. It's hard to predict anything, how he's going to feel on game day. We've still got a ways to go, but he's making strides every day. We'll just have to wait until Sunday."
Thomas was active against the Bills, but didn't take the field. Hillman has been limited in practice so far this week while Ball still is not participating. But C.J. Anderson and Juwan Thompson, along with a revamped offensive line, are doing a fantastic job of compensating for these injuries.
During Sunday's game, it was clear that multiple players were nicked up and many Broncos were battling injuries. But the players were a bunch of moving pieces that were flexible.
"We're pretty fluid in what we're doing right now, so whether it's running the ball or passing the ball, it's kind of who is healthy, what groups can we go with, who is really going to be the most effective," he said. "We've got some interchangeable parts, which is to our advantage."
FAMILIARITY GOES BEYOND PLAYERS
Sunday's game will be the fifth time these two teams have faced off in the last 14 months. The players know each other quite well, as do the coaches.
Chargers Head Coach Mike McCoy spent seven seasons with Broncos Head Coach John Fox in Carolina and McCoy served as the Broncos' offensive coordinator for four seasons. Gase took over McCoy's role when he left for the Chargers.
While there is a lot of history between the two, Gase is focused on John Pagano's play calling, rather than what McCoy could reveal about Denver's offensive plans.
"I know Mike can help them in certain things, but if I spent a lot of time wondering what he could tell them, I'm going to be chasing a lot of ghosts," Gase said. "For the most part, we've just got to make sure that we're on what they've shown and what they've done against us in the past and keep working possible situations that could come up and how we can adjust during a game."
On Wednesday during his weekly press conference, Peyton Manning noted that the Chargers have a variety of weapons and looks. He said that Eric Weddle and other defensive veterans allow the team to be creative and their defense can change series-to-series and game-to-game.
Gase echoed Manning's sentiments.
"When you play any team, especially when you're as multiple as they are, you've got to make sure you're on what you're doing," Gase said. "That's why sideline adjustments—especially against a team like this and some of these teams that have very good defensive coordinators—you better be on it on game day because you're going to see something different."