CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- Injuries remain a certainty in the NFL. It makes the timing as important as the ailment.
The Broncos enter the first day of pads on Sunday absent three significant players: outside linebackers Shane Ray (left wrist) and Shaquil Barrett (hip) and running back Devontae Booker (wrist). The loss of Ray for 6-to-8 weeks sent ripples through camp given his platform as a breakout player. The expectation is that Ray and Barrett could return for the third regular season game. The abbreviated absence influenced the Broncos' pursuit of a replacement. Rather than go with a veteran like Dwight Freeney, whose salary would guarantee if on the opening day roster, the Broncos signed Danny Mason, a Denver practice squader in 2015, for depth.
The key to keeping the position warm starts with Kasim Edebali, signed in the offseason from the New Orleans Saints. The Broncos need someone to emerge since Von Miller's preseason reps, already limited, will be scaled back to keep him healthy for the regular season.
"Kasim can be a monster," right tackle Menelik Watson said Saturday. "He can be whatever he puts his mind to. He has incredible intelligence, great hands and great feet. He's putting it together."
Born in Hamburg, Germany, Edebali appeared in 48 games for the Saints over the past three seasons. He netted eight sacks, including a career-high five in 2015.
"Obviously I am ready to step up," said Edebali, an outgoing who delivers comedy with an alter ego on his Instagram account. "It's been my mantra my whole career. If somebody goes down, 91 is called."
The absence of Ray and Barrett also expands Vontarrius Dora's role. He impressed last training camp, working from a raw college player used to having his hand in the dirt to a promising pass rusher. He spent 13 weeks on the Broncos' practice squad, and appeared in one game as a rookie.
"I was disappointed because Shane's a great guy, and it hurts to see somebody go down like that. With Shane and Von, it's like the old guys who keep you in check. They are always giving me advice," Dora said. "I am just going to make the most of my opportunity and keep working for that spot."
Derby in running
The Broncos' offense continues to draw rave reviews for its versatility. The route tree has expanded, and the backs are more involved in the passing game. Running back C.J. Anderson sees shades of the Chargers, Raiders and Vikings' offenses in Denver's new scheme. More weapons should help the quarterbacks. The tight end position, which featured almost no production last year, needs to produce. A.J. Derby, acquired from the New England Patriots last season, put his stamp on Saturday's practice. He caught multiple strikes. Coach Vance Joseph has noticed.
"He can get open in one on ones," Joseph said.
Added Derby, "Last year I was learning week to week. I am getting more comfortable now with this offense."
Bennie Fowler remains a top candidate to secure the third wide receiver's spot. He looks like he walked off the cover of a fitness magazine. There's a reason for that. According to Fowler, he and receiver Demaryius Thomas have gone vegan. It has left both players at a slightly lower weight than years past.
"We have been vegan for about three weeks. I've lost 10 pounds," Fowler said. "We feel light. It feels good."
Watson experienced a rough practice Friday, getting worked over by Miller. He welcomes the challenge. "It's only going to make me better," said Watson, who faced Khalil Mack for three years in Oakland. "It's great work." Watson is playing at roughly 315 pounds to avoid soft-tissue injuries. He weighed in the 340s early in his career. He's looking forward to going in pads. "We're trying to bring that nastiness." ... Rookie running back De'Angelo Henderson tweaked his ankle in Friday's morning practice and missed the walk through. ... Members of the Wyoming football staff attended Saturday's practice. Cowboys quarterback Josh Allen is projected a first-round draft choice next spring.