ENGLEWOOD, Colo. —Denver's All-Pro cornerback, Chris Harris Jr., will not be placed on injured reserve with a "small break" in his lower leg, Head Coach Vance Joseph announced Monday.
"He needs rest and rehab," Joseph said. "We'll see how it falls in a couple weeks."
That week-to-week prognosis is a welcome change from initial media reports that suggested Harris could miss the rest of the season after suffering the injury against Cincinnati.
"I think it's great news," Joseph said. "It's great news for Chris. He has time to hopefully recover and heal up, and hopefully we're still playing."
As Harris recovers, Joseph said the Broncos will continue to rely on his football acumen to help the secondary prepare for games.
"He's going to be around rehabbing and obviously in every meeting with us," Joseph said. "His leadership is critical for our young back-end. He's a very, very smart football player, so the things that he finds in his film study, no one else finds. Absolutely, to have him around is going to help us."
Joseph said he would not guess when Harris could return, but Harris said Monday he's aiming for Week 17.
"I always heal fast," Harris said. "I've got the right people around me to help me get back fast and I'll work night and day to get back. My goal is three weeks, but they said four. My goal is three weeks because I want to play against [the Los Angeles Chargers]."
For now, though, Broncos must move forward with the cornerbacks currently on their roster.
Unless the Broncos remove a player from another position group, they don't have much of a choice. Without going on IR, Harris will continue to use a roster spot.
"The guys we have in house, that's who we're going to play with," Joseph said.
That means Bradley Roby, Tramaine Brock, Isaac Yiadom and Brendan Langley will continue to play at cornerback while the Broncos evaluate who to use in their nickel defense.
Safety Justin Simmons moved over to play most of the nickel snaps on Sunday vs. Cincinnati.
"It says a lot for a guy not to work nickel all week and to move there in the first quarter of the game and play 50 snaps there at a high level," Joseph said. "That speaks to also his physical traits to match [WR Tyler] Boyd, who is their best guy outside of A.J. Green. When A.J. went down, it was all Boyd. So to match him down the seam and to match him intermediately, he won more than he lost. That's special. It's good to have him. So we'll how we proceed this week as far as nickel goes, but he's a guy that can play it for us … at a high level."
Joseph said he is hopeful Brock can return against the 49ers to bolster the secondary.
Derek Wolfe (rib), Josey Jewell (ankle) and Brandon Marshall (knee) could also return.
Both Wolfe and Jewell are listed as day to day after suffering injuries Sunday. Marshall, meanwhile, could play for the first time since Week 8.
"[Marshall] wanted to go last week, but he wasn't quite ready," Joseph said. "So hopefully he's ready to go this week. But he is itching to get back on the field with his teammates. He called me last night [and said], 'I'm ready to go, Coach.' He wants to go, so we'll see how he feels as the week progresses."
FINDING A RHYTHM
On the Wednesday before the Broncos' 24-10 win over the Bengals, Joseph reflected on the feeling that permeated the Miami Dolphins' facility late in the 2016 season.
Joseph was Miami's defensive coordinator that year, when the Dolphins recovered from a 1-4 start to win nine of its next 10 games. Miami finished 10-6 to earn a Wild Card berth.
"Once you go on a run like that, you can feel it," Joseph said Wednesday. "It's all about synergy with your team, how you practice, how guys meet — the feeling on game day like you can't lose. It's definitely a great feeling, but we're not there yet."
After a Week 13 win that pushed the Broncos' win streak to three games, though, Joseph admitted the Broncos are approaching the same sort of feeling.
"I think we're close," Joseph said Monday. "I think we're close. I think every game we go into, we feel good about winning the game. That's what it's about. But it starts with the work each week, and those teams I've been on that [have] gone on runs, they put the work in. We can't live off last week's success. We have to move on, we have to reset, we have to go back to work. We have to go back and put the investment back in, so when things get tough on Sunday, you don't just give it away. When the investment's heavy, teams fight."
Through 12 games, no pass-rushing duo has found more success than Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. The pair has tallied a combined 22.5 sacks, which is a tangible example of just how good they've been.
But because of their success, Miller and Chubb are helping the Broncos in another way. Opposing offenses can't afford to just chip-block Miller, a perennial All-Pro. Instead, Denver's opponents are — at times — chipping both players.
As Joseph said Monday, that's a huge advantage for Denver.
"I've seen Bradley and Von get double-chipped, which is rare," Joseph said. "But we kind of like that, especially when we're rushing four and playing zone coverage, cause now we've got [seven] guys over three receivers. So that's always a good deal when they're double chipping those guys. Obviously those two guys are a problem as far as third-down – even first-, second-down — pass rush. The more we get double-chipped, the more we'll play zone and just get off the field. It works both ways for us."
Broncos 0, Chargers 6.
Broncos 3, Steelers 0.
Broncos 0, Bengals 0.
Those are the scores after the first quarter for each of the Broncos' last three games.
Denver came away with a win in each of those contests — in part due to the defense pitching two shutouts in the opening quarter — but the slow starts are a trend that Joseph would like to see stop.
"We've got to start faster," Joseph said. "I think we've scored three points in the first quarter in the last two or three games, so we've got to get more points early, and that just comes from execution. We've got plays out there. We've missed throws early in the last two games. We had some run reads that we missed early in the games, so we have to simply start faster by executing better and putting together drives and scoring points early. We can't wait until the second quarter [or] second half to score points. That's going to be a focus this week to get off to a better start, offensively especially."