ENGLEWOOD — The Denver Broncos might have to face former quarterback Kyle Orton with two backup safeties if Brian Dawkins and Quinton Carter can’t play in Sunday’s showdown with the Kansas City Chiefs, who are trying to deny Tim Tebow a trip to the playoffs.
Although Carter (hip) participated in the entire two-hour workout Wednesday, Dawkins was held out of the team’s final full-padded practice of the regular season because of a neck injury that has bothered him for much of the month.
Dawkins didn’t address his availability for Sunday but did dismiss speculation that the injury threatens his stellar 16-year career that includes eight Pro Bowls.
Carter wasn’t available during the locker room access period.
Dawkins, Carter and nickel cornerback Chris Harris (neck), who leads all rookie defensive backs with 62 tackles, all were knocked out of last week’s loss at Buffalo.
“I’ll definitely be ready to play this week,” said Harris, who was limited at Wednesday’s workout. “The body feels like everybody else’s does in the NFL at this time of the season but you’ve just got to fight through it and play your game.”
If Dawkins can’t play Sunday, David Bruton would start at strong safety even though he was limited at practice because of a nagging Achilles' injury.
If Carter is out, fellow rookie Raheem Moore, who began the season as the starter but was demoted for his poor tackling technique, would get the nod at free safety.
Facing backups in the secondary would seemingly be a big break for Orton, whom the Chiefs claimed off waivers last month when the Broncos jettisoned their former starter.
“Well, what we look at and what we talk about during the week is we assume everybody is playing,” Chiefs interim coach Romeo Crennel said, “and if somebody doesn’t play, I don’t think that we can ever say, ‘OK, that’s great,’ or anything like that because I know that in the NFL, the guy who steps in is a good player. So, you never underestimate your opponent.”
Still, there’s no denying the drop-off.
Aside from his unparalleled leadership and his knack for deciphering offenses, Dawkins has 51 stops and three sacks and Carter has 46 tackles and a sack.
Bruton has just eight tackles, five of which came last week after Dawkins went down, and Moore has recorded 13 tackles in the last three games after being a healthy scratch against Minnesota on Dec. 4., which followed a month without a single tackle.
“You know what, everybody has to believe and everybody has to stay ready. That’s all you can do,” Moore said. “Get healthy, stay ready. It’s not going to be easy. It’s been a tough season. And that’s why you have to stay ready and believe and when it’s all said and done, whoever’s out there has to make some plays and do what he can to help this team conquer.”
Publicly at least, the Broncos are de-emphasizing Orton’s return to Denver, saying that clinching the AFC West and making the playoffs for the first time in six seasons is their chief mission.
“Even if Orton wasn’t playing on that team, it would still be a big game,” Harris said. “We all know this is a big opportunity for us to go to the playoffs. We’ve got a chance to do something that we haven’t been done here in a long time.”
The Broncos know Orton doesn’t get rid of the ball as quickly as Tom Brady or Ryan Fitzpatrick. But they also know as much as anybody that they’d better pressure him to avoid exposing their shuffled secondary against a quarterback who threw for 299 yards in ending the Packers’ perfect season two weeks ago, Orton threw for 300 in taking the Raiders down to the wire last weekend.
“Orton, man, you give that dude time to throw, he has all the capability in the world,” Moore said.
That’s where their Pro Bowl pass-rushing duo of Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller comes in.
Dumervil has 9½ sacks, all in the last eight games, and Miller has 11½, but just one in the last three weeks after tearing ligaments in his right thumb on Nov. 27. The injury required surgery and sidelined him for a game. He’s had just one tackle in each of the last two games.
“I definitely want to go out there and show the world you can play with one and a-half hands,” Miller said. “That’s been my mindset this whole time. It’s been a struggle these last couple of games, but I’m going to be moving around a lot more this week and hopefully I can be more productive. This is the last push.”
Coach John Fox blamed the cumbersome cast that immobilizes Miller’s wrist and thumb for his drop-off in production.
“I’m not in the business of making excuses or anything like that,” Miller said. “I was making great progress before the injury. I feel like San Diego was my best game to date. Everything happens for a reason. It’s the NFL. ... All I can do is just go out there and play a game that I love.”
And try to get to Orton, who went 12-21 in Denver, including 1-4 this year before being benched.
“Hopefully we can get there and get there in a bad mood,” Miller said.
Tebow is 7-3 as the starter but is coming off back-to-back poor performances in losses to New England and Buffalo. He had his worst game as a pro — and maybe ever — in a 40-14 loss to the Bills in which he turned the ball over four times.
“I feel like I usually let stuff go pretty good, but I don’t know that you always want to,” Tebow said Wednesday. “Part of being motivated is learning from mistakes, past failures and losses, and having that feeling, that disappointment, drive you in practice, in meetings, to watch more, to do more.
“So, I don’t know if you always want to let everything go and continue to be the same person. You need to let it eat at you a little bit because I think it makes you better as a player and as a person.”
The league on Wednesday changed one of Tebow’s four interceptions against the Bills to a sack and fumble, but it still marked the first time he had three picks in either the NFL or college.
Notes: CB Champ Bailey is the recipient of the fifth annual Darrent Williams Good Guy Award as selected by the Broncos local media. The award was created in memory of the late cornerback.
Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton