By Arnie Stapleton, AP pro football writer
ENGLEWOOD — Broncos coach Vance Joseph’s first training camp got off to a rough start with word that Devontae Booker, who was pushing to unseat C.J. Anderson as Denver’s starting running back, will undergo wrist surgery Friday and is expected to miss six weeks.
Booker suffered a hairline fracture late in OTAs but he and the team thought it was just a minor sprain until the Broncos did X-rays Wednesday when he reported for his training camp physical.
“And it was a wrist fracture,” Joseph said. “So, it’s obviously been there for a couple of months and we didn’t know and he didn’t know.”
It wasn’t something Booker tried to keep from the team, either.
“No, he didn’t hide it. It was a football nick, he thought. It wasn’t anything serious. He went home for the summer, he couldn’t bench press. He came back, we X-rayed it and it was fractured,” Joseph said.
“And, guys, he can play with this. But the concern is his long-term health. That bone can die and his hand can be kind of messed up forever. So, we didn’t want that for the kid.”
The setback marred the offseason for the second-year pro who had a solid spring in bouncing back from a rough rookie season that followed two knee surgeries.
“You see the big jump,” Anderson said. “You see that he’s a lot more concentrated. He’s a lot more focused and putting time in the playbook. Just to have a little setback like that, it’s definitely disappointing for him. We have a job to do out there and when he comes back, his spot will definitely be warm and ready for him.”
It will be hard for Booker to unseat Anderson now.
The Broncos had been planning to split first-team snaps at training camp between Booker and Anderson, who is returning from a torn meniscus last season, while Jamaal Charles slowly works his way into action after missing most of the last two seasons in Kansas City with leg injuries.
Booker led the Broncos with 174 carries for 612 yards and four touchdowns in 2016 after Anderson went on IR after getting hurt in the seventh game.
With Booker shelved, the Broncos signed free agent running back Stevan Ridley on a one-year deal. He’ll join a backfield with Anderson, veteran Juwan Thompson, rookie De’Angelo Henderson and free agent Bernard Pierce.
“I’m very thankful to have another shot,” said Ridley, a seventh-year pro who has played sparingly since 2012, when he rushed for 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns for the Patriots.
Running back was one of the positions GM John Elway mentioned Wednesday when he emphasized there was a lot more to training camp this summer than the headliner competition between quarterbacks Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch.
QB competition kicks off in earnest: The Broncos skipped the 2-minute drills and the team drills where wide receivers and DBs routinely sprint 40 or 50 yards downfield and went straight — and strictly — to red zone drills with Siemian and Lynch .
“Trevor said that’s crazy because that’s one of the hardest things that the quarterback has to do,” linebacker Brandon Marshall said. “But, why not throw them right into the fire? That’s perfect.”
Although Denver’s star-studded defense made it hard for both QBs, Siemian said he appreciated Joseph going straight to red zone drills a day after players went through conditioning drills because it was good for players’ bodies and minds.
“Usually you get back and you’re in the first install and you’re throwing to a bunch of green grass and kind of ease your way into it,” said Siemian, whose strength is the short and intermediate passes. “Whereas down there, it’s bang-bang, especially with our guys. So, good to get those reps early on.”
Lynch, whose hallmark is the deep ball, said, “It’s kind of tough with those guys. We’ve got a good defense and when you get down into the red zone you’re going to have to take some chances with the ball and throw it into some tight areas. But I think Coach Joseph did a good job of letting everybody kind of get their feet under them and not having them running all over the field.”
Offensive line continues makeover: The acquisition of guard Allen Barbre from the Eagles means the Broncos could have four new starters along the offensive line with center Matt Paradis: Garett Bolles and Menelik Watson at tackle, Barbre and Ron Leary at guard.
The Broncos traded a conditional draft pick to the Eagles for Barbre, a 10th-year veteran.
“He’s a smart, steady guy,” Joseph said. “He’s a nice addition.”