ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- **Linebacker Brandon Marshall practiced for the first time in three weeks as the Broncos returned to the practice field to begin full preparations for next week's divisional-round game against the Indianapolis Colts.
Marshall took part in the linebacker drills at the beginning of practice, cutting and accelerating on the foot that he sprained in the first half of the Dec. 14 win at San Diego.
"It's good to see him out there," defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said. "He's not quite himself yet, obviously. He didn't take much of the team reps, but we'll be fine. It's still a long week, a lot of days left and he'll be ready by Sunday."
"He's good," added safety Rahim Moore. "One thing about him and Danny [Trevathan], those guys practice so hard, that when game time comes, it's like it's easy for them."
Since the injury was diganosed, Marshall and the Broncos have pointed to the divisional round as a targeted return date. He was out of a walking boot less than 48 hours after being injured, and was on the practice field working with team strength and conditioning coaches by the Dec. 25 session.
Fresh off their bye week, the Broncos held a Monday practice, where Brandon Marshall participated for the first time in more than three weeks.
Marshall acknowledged Dec. 18 that in order to play, he would have to manage the pain associated with the injury and its recovery, but he expected to return by the postseason.
Rookie Todd Davis filled in for Marshall the last two weeks and showed marked improvement in his second start, giving the Broncos more confidence in their depth. But Marshall played at an elite level throughout the regular season -- albeit without the Pro Bowl selection to back it up -- and the Broncos know they need him.
"He's playing like he's been in the league seven or eight years. He's playing at an All-Pro level," Moore said. "Every series he's making a play."
Safety David Bruton Jr. and left guard Orlando Franklin were the only Broncos without a helmet for the one-hour practice Monday. Both are in the NFL's post-concussion protocol after being injured against the Raiders on Dec. 28. Franklin wrote Friday for Yahoo! Canada Sports that he expected to be cleared in time to play in the divisional round.
Quarterback Peyton Manning also returned to practice after getting a breather for the two sessions held Dec. 30 and 31 before the Broncos took a three-day break at the first-round bye weekend. He was joined by wide receivers Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders and Wes Welker, all of whom got rest for at least one practice last week.
Safety T.J. Ward also practiced once again. He has not missed a practice since suffering a neck strain against the Bengals, but did not wear a helmet for his first three days back on the field Dec. 24-26.
"I feel better. That's all I'm going to tell you guys," Ward said, with a knowing chuckle. "But I feel better."
Every Bronco on the 53-man roster and practice squad was on the field Monday morning in some capacity, a welcome change from the last several weeks, when the absence of at least a handful of players has been the norm for a team battered by injuries.
The practice was helpful for not just the injured players, but everyone, including Chris Harris Jr., who has dealt with knee pain throughout his Pro Bowl season as he continues to work back from the torn anterior cruciate ligament he suffered last January.
"This is the best I've felt all season," Harris said. "Getting that bye week and just the way I felt running today, I felt great."
Tight end Julius Thomas said his injured ankle felt "better" during Monday's practice after the weekend of rest. Thomas has played the last three games with ankle soreness after missing three weeks because of an injury suffered in St. Louis on Nov. 16.
"It was a big week for me. It was good to get some rest," he said. "Every doctor will tell you the most important thing is rest, but it's tough to do in the middle of the season. So I got a little bit of time to stay off it and get some treatment on it. It went well.
"(I was) able to loosen things up a little bit and start to have a little more movement out there, so it's definitely coming along."
A refreshed team is often a focused team, and that was the case Monday.
"Everybody was locked in, lasered in and like [Head] Coach [John] Fox said, preseason is a different season, the regular season is a different season and then the postseason is a different season. And in each different season, the intensity raises," Knighton said. "Now it's a one-and-done. If you lose, you're done. So we don't want to be that team that's going home this weekend."
But that focus actually began last week, Moore noted.
"We practiced like we were in the wild card (last week)," he said. "You have to, because if you don't, somebody else would love to practice for you."
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