By Arnie Stapleton, AP pro football writer
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Inside linebacker Todd Davis says he’s optimistic he’ll play against New England this weekend after returning to practice Friday on a limited basis.
“I was encouraged by what I saw,” coach Gary Kubiak said. “We’ll see how he comes out of it in the morning and move him around again tomorrow. I think it’s kind of going exactly like we thought it was going to go leading up to game time. It was encouraging today.”
Davis was officially listed as 50-50 with a strained oblique that knocked him out of last week’s game at Tennessee. But he said, “I felt solid. I’m excited for Sunday and I think I’m going to be ready.”
Fellow inside linebacker Brandon Marshall said he hopes to play at Kansas City next week after being ruled out against the Patriots. This will be the second straight game he’s missed since aggravating a pulled left hamstring at Jacksonville on Dec. 4.
Corey Nelson will start in place of Marshall when the Broncos (8-5) host the Patriots (11-2) , and Zaire Anderson is prepared to play significant snaps even if Davis is a go.
“I’m preparing like I’m starting,” said Anderson, who drew praise for his five-tackle performance last week after Davis went out,
“He got thrown in there last week and we played our best half,” Kubiak said.
Still, given Denver’s strong pass rush and stout secondary, Tom Brady and the Patriots are expected to go after Denver’s inside linebackers by sending their tight ends and running backs on intermediate routes over the middle.
“They tried to test the linebackers last year, so I definitely could see them doing it again,” said Davis, adding his injury doesn’t limit him defending the pass or run.
The Broncos placed long snapper Casey Kreiter, who’s missed the last month with a strained calf, on injured reserve Friday and promoted rookie outside linebacker Vontarrius Dora from their practice squad.
“His injury just hasn’t responded,” said Kubiak, who had carried two long snappers on his 53-man roster since Nov. 25 when nine-year veteran free agent Thomas Gafford was signed.
“Congratulations to Dora. The kid has done a great job, so he gets rewarded. I think there’s a place for him. You may see him before this year is out. He’s got a bright future.”
Dora (6-4, 256 pounds) had a spectacular training camp after going undrafted out of Louisiana Tech. He had 10 tackles, eight of them solo, two sacks and a forced fumble for Denver in the preseason.
Offensive coordinator Rick Dennison missed practice all week because of a family matter but Kubiak said that won’t affect the play-calling Sunday. Kubiak and QB coach Greg Knapp were still in touch with Dennison throughout the week as they installed the game plan.
“We’ve met every night even though he’s not here,” Kubiak said.
The Broncos have been a slow-starting team, scoring just 23 first-quarter points compared to New England’s league-best 103.
The Broncos know they have to buck that trend Sunday.
“It’s important all of the time,” Kubiak said. “We know we’ve struggled. When we have started well, we’ve played pretty well. When you look at this team, you’re playing a team that since Tom has come back, they’re the top scoring team in football and yet, they don’t give up points. Points and possessions are a premium. Red zone possessions are a premium. If you go back to our two games last year, we played some great red zone defense. Offensively, we did a good job in the red zone.”
Notes: “It was lucky,” pass rusher Shaq Barrett said of his backward, overhead, half-court shot at the Nuggets game Thursday night. … Frigid temperatures are forecast for kickoff Sunday, but Brandon McManus, who missed a 62-yarder in overtime against Kansas City on a cold November night, said that doesn’t necessarily cut down the kicker’s range. “Technically, it should,” he said. “The balls will continue to get deflated throughout the game. As long as I’m able to stay warm, I’ll still be able to kick from long distances.”