SANTA CLARA, Calif. —** Two years ago when the Broncos left Denver to begin their preparation for Super Bowl XLVIII, they were missing a significant part of the team.
They had all the players who would appear during the game, but they did not take those on injured reserve (like Chris Harris Jr. and Von Miller, who were recovering from torn ACLs), opting to have them come out on the Thursday before the game.
"I know how it felt to be left," Harris said. "It kind of felt like none of my plays mattered that year."
The Broncos took to the practice fields on Thursday to continue Super Bowl 50 preparations. (All photos by Eric Lars Bakke)
But this year that changed and those who are on injured reserve have been with the team for the entire week.
"I think that's just an awesome thing you can say about Coach [Gary Kubiak]," safety Shiloh Keo said. "He sees the importance of bringing all his guys out here, whether they're playing or not, because we're still part of one team. They're still one of us. Even though they can't help us contribute in the game on the field, there are still other things that they can do for us by just supporting us, being there, showing that they're still committed. And it's just an extra set of eyes and ears and extra minds in the meeting rooms [and] on the sideline, so when you bring everybody and you have everybody together, it's so much easier to want to fight harder."
Though they have a much freer schedule than the active players, safeties David Bruton Jr. and Omar Bolden—the two safeties on injured reserve—have contributed when they can. They're in position and team meetings, able to offer their perspective if they so choose.
"They're still involved," said Defensive Backs Coach Joe Woods. "[Bruton is] a guy that on our back end, he could play any position: both safety positions, he could play the dime positions. I mean, he really knows what everybody does on defense. So he's always been a guy in the room that can help other guys, in terms of if they're struggling or having questions. So they're still involved, they're coming to the meetings, and that's kind of what they do, him and Omar both.
"It's definitely good for us to have those guys on the road, just to help go through the process in terms of what we do film-study-wise, what we're doing game-plan-wise and to give those guys some comments and to help guys if they have any questions. So it's really been good from that standpoint."
Their involvement helps during games, almost as if they're temporary assistant coaches. They've offered advice to their teammates based on their experiences and what they see on the field.
"Things always look different on the sidelines," safety Josh Bush said. "It's just you're able to see more, perhaps, of just them telling me some things that I may not have seen, different disguises that we can do."
Though Bush and Keo, each added to the roster late in the season, have experience with Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips and his scheme, some extra help can't hurt. "They just want to make sure they're doing everything possible to help us out so that we can continue to just be that next guy in and hold each other to the same level of play that everyone's had all year," Keo said. "It's really cool just to be able to grow and get to know these guys and see their passion for the game and see how bad they still want it, even though they can't be out on the field."