CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- The NFL exists, at its core, as competition. But as the weeks advance, it becomes a battle of attrition. The Broncos travel to Tampa Bay with three starters out for the second straight week. While Donald Stephenson and DeMarcus Ware were never expected to play, tight end Virgil Green did not practice Friday during open viewing making him a scratch with a strained left calf.
"I don't want to say it's been a little slower than we thought. We thought we were looking at a game. But we pushed him yesterday. I don't think we went backwards. We just didn't make enough progress to put him out there," Kubiak said. "It's a long season."
Green told Denver7 he began running Thursday. He was not 100 percent, or close enough to excel in a game environment, he admitted. The training staff continues to preach patience with Green, who is cognizant of rushing back too soon and missing significant time.
"I have to be smart," Green said.
Green's absence clears a path for John Phillips for a second consecutive week. Phillps caught a touchdown pass in the Broncos' 29-17 win over the Bengals. Jeff Heuerman could receive more snaps after making a difficult 29-yard reception, the Broncos' third longest gain in Cincinnati. Phillips played 27 snaps compared to 19 for Heuerman against Cincinnati.
Ty Sambrailo receives his second straight nod at right tackle with Stephenson sidelined. Sambrailo showed endurance in his debut at the position -- appearing on all 67 snaps -- but struggled in pass protection and failed to gain traction in the running game. Offensive coordinator Rick Dennison said Sambrailo "showed rust," and expects him to improve.
On secondary thought
Safety Shiloh Keo continues to deal with a sore knee. He will be a game-time decision. Even if Keo can go, he profiles as a special teams ace. The Broncos showed their trust in rookie strong safety Will Parks last Sunday. He played 25 of 67 snaps as T.J. Ward required brief assistance for a shoulder stinger. Parks was fined $24,309 for diving at a defenseless receiver but is appealing and hoping to have it reduced.
The Broncos own the fourth quarter, outscoring opponents 45-13. Tampa Bay, in contrast, struggles to finish. The Bucs have allowed 47 second-half points, fifth worst, and 101 overall, dead last.
... The Broncos start in mud. Their six first-quarter points rank third worst. They didn't score a touchdown on their first drive last season until Nov. 22 at Chicago. Tampa Bay, however, isn't much better. The Bucs own nine points in the first quarter.
... The Broncos have gained four-plus yards on 50 percent of their first downs, a statistic that predicts success in an offense that tilts toward the running game.
... Ware, Stephenson and Green will travel with this team this week, though inactive. Ware functions as a coach on the sideline when not playing.