CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- DeMarcus Ware, a defensive captain and potential Hall of Famer, might have played his last game as a Bronco. The Broncos placed the nine-time Pro Bowler on injured reserve with a back injury. He will undergo surgery.
A stalwart and big-brother presence in the locker room, Ware suffered through a disappointing year and will be a free agent at season's end. He missed the entire offseason because of a disc injury in his back, only returning after restructuring his contract. Ware told Denver7 surgery wasn't required on his back, but it sounded alarms that several months of rest didn't correct the problem. An operation was deemed necessary after his latest flare-up, which also cost him multiple games in 2015.
Ware, who turns 35 in July, started the season well, then fractured the ulna bone in his right forearm in the second week against Indianapolis. He raced around the end toward quarterback Andrew Luck and ran into Von Miller's knee. The break required surgery, leaving Ware sidelined for five games. Ware finished with four sacks this season. Ware's 138.5 sacks rank eighth all-time in NFL history, and second among active players to Julius Peppers.
Former Missouri star Shane Ray functioned as Ware's primary replacement this year. In his second season, the former first round draft pick blossomed after leaning out and studying more film. Ray owns seven sacks and 47 tackles this year.
Ware delivered 21.5 sacks in three seasons with the Broncos, anchoring a free agent class that included cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward. He provided a calming presence and a coach in the locker room. Along with quarterback Peyton Manning, Ware delivered an inspirational speech before Super Bowl 50 which teammates credited for motivating them to upset the Carolina Panthers.
With nine Pro Bowl berths and a Super Bowl ring, it remains to be seen if Ware will continue playing. He's put together a Hall of Fame resume, and dealt with lingering back issues for years. However, Ware tweeted Wednesday, suggesting he's not ready to retire.
"Pedal is always to the metal and fuel is still in the tank," Ware said.
Ware talked last week of possibly working in the media when his career ended. He currently hosts "Talk Now with DeMarcus Ware" on multiple NFL media platforms. Ware won the Broncos Good Guy award this season for his professionalism in dealing with the press.
Defensive back Kayvon Webster was also placed on the injured reserve with a concussion. The Broncos elevated nose tackle Kyle Peko and cornerback Taurean Nixon to the active roster.
Marshall hopes to play
It wasn't supposed to happen this way.
Inside linebacker Brandon Marshall signed a four-year, $32-million contract in the offseason, identified as a core player. He looked to cement his status with a Pro Bowl berth and deep playoff run. Instead, Marshall's season dissolved because of a lingering left hamstring injury.
"It's been tough," said Marshall, frustrated by injuries.
Marshall hurt his hamstring in an October win over the Houston Texans. It came as his season began to tilt upward. Following a poor game against Atlanta in coverage, Marshall rebounded. Then came the leg issue. And down when his season and stats. Marshall has missed the past three games with the grade 2 strain, aggravated at Jacksonville, but expects to play in the season finale against Oakland. Marshall practiced on Thursday.
Marshall has 52 tackles in 11 games. He totaled 215 tackles over the previous two seasons.
Marshall likely needs to do some bursts and acceleration drills to know he's ready for Sunday. In absence of those tests, he might not be cleared to go.
Ward up in air
The return of safety T.J. Ward remains less certain. He missed the Kansas City game with a concussion. He attended Wednesday's practice, but did not participate. Justin Simmons started in his place, and netted a pick, but struggled with consistency. Safety Darian Stewart clearly missed Ward's presence, playing his worst game of the season, defined by four missed tackles.
Other players who did not practice and might not play Sunday include: defensive end Derek Wolfe (neck) and tight end A.J. Derby (concussion). Virgil Green (concussion) is making progress, suggesting he will return against the Raiders.
Recent promotions coupled by injuries created a roster shuffle by the Broncos. They added defensive tackle Iosia Iosia, center Reese Dismukes and wide receiver Hunter Sharpe to the practice squad.