ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Chris Kuper’s lower-leg fracture appeared severe from the moment he suffered it during the first quarter Sunday afternoon, and by Monday, his season — and first playoff appearance as a professional — came to an end.
Kuper was placed on injured reserve Monday, officially confirming what seemed apparent the second a cart was called for him Sunday.
“He’s a real big loss,” said right tackle Orlando Franklin. “He definitely was the bus driver on my side. He was making all the calls, and whatnot. Russ (Hochstein) stepped in and did a good job yesterday.
“It’s unfortunate. I kind of feel like I”m to blame a little bit for it. I wish him a speedy recovery and see him next season.
Broncos coach John Fox cited the 2009 injury and recovery of one of his Carolina Panthers offensive linemen, Jordan Gross, as reason to believe that Kuper would make a complete recovery.
A year after suffering the injury, Gross returned to the Pro Bowl, which he reached in the 2008 season.
“It was almost identical, and (Gross) was bopping around a little bit in the spring and was full speed by training camp,” Fox said.
Gross suffered his injury in the Panthers’ ninth game of the 2009 season, so Kuper is seven weeks behind relative to the Pro Bowl left tackle, but Fox expects Kuper to be ready for training camp.
To replace Kuper on the 53-man roster, the Broncos re-signed offensive tackle Ryan Harris, who was with the team from 2007-10 before joining the Philadelphia Eagles in free agency this summer. A back injury prevented him from sticking there, and he spent the regular season out of football.
Harris has played right tackle most of his career. His presence provides overall depth on the offensive line, which could prove necessary if there are further injuries. In the fourth quarter of Sunday’s loss to Kansas City, Hochstein was shaken up and left the game; that forced tackle Chris Clark into the lineup for a brief time before Hochstein returned.
Starting right tackle Orlando Franklin could also be an interior option; he was considered a guard prospect by many observers heading into the 2011 NFL Draft.
WAIT AND SEE ON LARSEN: Fullback Spencer Larsen’s sprained knee left the Broncos without a fullback late Sunday, since reserve Austin Sylvester was not among the 46 active players.
That could change next Sunday, as the rookie could find himself making his Broncos — and NFL — debut if Larsen can’t return to the field by then.
“I don’t know what the deal is; Spencer or no one has really said anything to me about it — so whatever happens will happen,” said Sylvester.
Sylvester was in the Broncos’ training camp this summer after being signed as an undrafted free agent from the University of Washington, but didn’t stick on the roster and remained out of work until the Buccaneers signed him to their practice squad last month.
Last week, the Broncos added him to their 53-man roster. Signing him could be an indication that Sylvester figures into their long-term plans; by bringing him aboard, they ensured he wouldn’t be available for teams to sign him on the reserve-future market.
“I’d like to think that,” said Sylvester. “Hopefully I can stick around here as long as possible because I really like it here. It’s whatever they’re willing to do, wherever direction we’re going in, I’m prepared for whatever.”