ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --OLB DeMarcus Ware's progress is palpable as he returned to the practice field this week after sitting out three weeks following the recurrence of a back injury in Indianapolis on Nov. 8.
Ware was "much improved" from Wednesday to Thursday, Head Coach Gary Kubiak said.
"I went through almost a full practice today," Ware said. "I think it's just getting out there and bending around the corner and doing the pass rush, doing a lot of run drills and getting all your confidence back where things were missing and just getting some plays in."
But after working on a limited basis during the last two practices, the top priority that the team has for Ware -- and Ware has for himself -- is being ready for the long term. The focus is not solely on seeing whether he can be ready for the Chargers on Sunday.
"Things are progressing like they should, but it's all about just getting healthy for a whole season instead of one game," Ware said. "So we're just taking it day-to-day right now."
"We're bringing him along slowly, but he's obviously progressed enough to practice some," Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips added. "We'll just have to see."
Ware missed the Week 6 game at Cleveland after suffering his first back injury at Oakland on Nov. 11, but returned Nov. 1 against Green Bay after having the bye to recover. He played well after returning, but only saw six quarters of work before succumbing again, a circumstance he would understandably prefer to avoid.
"That's one thing you don't want: to get in the game and say, 'I can't get in my stance,'" Ware said. "Those things were fine when I got back last time, and I was able to play, but it didn't sustain. So now you'll be a little bit more cautious and say, 'These are the things that you need to do; make sure that you're 100 percent before you go back on the field."
Ware's previous injury, combined with his age (33) and experience level (11 seasons), leads to caution in bringing him back.
"You know what: Mother Nature takes its toll. Your body wears down a little bit," Ware said. "You you've got to make sure you take care of it the right way and do everything that you need to do, but sometimes injuries strike, so you've got to make sure you get back the right way, because sometimes your body can get a little bit more fragile, or it takes a little bit more time.
"So you've just got to be cautious and make sure you come back 100 percent so you don't re-injure yourself."
Getting to 100 percent takes time, and Ware would prefer not to play at anything less.
"I'm okay with any play, especially with getting out there and trying to compete. But you don't want to compete at 80 percent; you always want to be at 100 percent," he said. "You don't want to go out there half-ing it on the field."
The performance of Shaquil Barrett, Shane Ray and Lerentee McCray gives the Broncos the patience to take their time; Ware even has a name for Barrett and Ray: "The Dirty Duo."
"Obviously, we want [Ware] back," Phillips saod, "but we want him well and ready to go so he can finish the season and hopefully help us later on."
Added Von Miller: "Whenever he's back, the other team is going to catch hell."
DeMarcus Ware's strip sack of Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, one frame at a time. (photos by Gabriel Christus unless otherwise noted)