ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Time was at a premium this week for the Denver Broncos, who will play for the second time in four days when they take on Arizona in an exhibition finale Thursday night.
"We crammed everything we could cram into two days (of preparation)," Broncos coach Josh McDaniels said Wednesday after the team's final walkthrough before the Cardinals game.
"You kind of see what your guys are capable of learning real fast. There are some new little things we have to do based on what they do but our guys adapted to it well," he said.
The Broncos (0-3) are coming off a 27-17 loss Sunday to Chicago in what was perhaps the most emotional preseason game ever in Denver because it featured the return of Jay Cutler, a former Pro Bowl passer with the Broncos who was traded to the Bears after a falling out with McDaniels.
On top of taking a beating from the quarterback he ran out of town, McDaniels saw Kyle Orton, the passer he obtained from Chicago in the Cutler trade, suffer a gash and dislocation of the index finger on his passing hand when he struck a defender's helmet during a follow-through.
With Orton's backup, Chris Simms, still nursing a left ankle sprain, rookie Tom Brandstater will start the Arizona game.
Besides Orton and Simms, the Broncos will be without wide receivers Brandon Marshall (suspension) and Jabar Gaffney (thumb), guard Chris Kuper (ankle) and defensive end Le Kevin Smith (unspecified injury). Rookie running back Knowshon Moreno practiced for the first time this week since spraining his knee Aug. 14, but McDaniels indicated the team's top draft pick won't play to try to ensure his readiness for the Sept. 13 regular season opener at Cincinnati.
"He would be capable of playing but I'm not exactly sure if that's the smartest decision," McDaniels said. "We're taking all the information into account, making sure we do the smart thing by the player and make sure we're ready to go next week. We'll field the healthiest team we can field when we go to Cincinnati, and I'm hopeful that a lot of the guys that have missed periods of time in training camp will be ready to go."
While emerging at least as healthy as they are going into the last exhibition remains a priority, McDaniels said there are still important elements to be gained from the team's final tuneup. Those include last-chance evaluations for players on the bubble ahead of Saturday's final roster cutdown to the 53-man season-opening limit.
"In some circumstances, it certainly will play a role," McDaniels said of weighing player performances in the final exhibition. "Everything they're doing on the field, we have a purpose for it, and they're going to play like they have a purpose."
Brandstater will play "for a long time," before giving way during the game, if he does at all, to fourth-string quarterback Ingle Martin, McDaniels said.
Other starters may play up to a half, but probably not more than that.
McDaniels said he wants to correct some of the things that have gone wrong in previous exhibitions and see improved overall play by the Broncos, who will be trying to avoid their first winless preseason since 1960, when they went 0-5 heading into their inaugural AFL campaign.
"Offensively, we'd love to come out of the game with no penalties," said McDaniels, whose offense was responsible for most of the team's 10 penalties against Chicago. "Defensively, we did some good things against the run, but we gave up a big two-minute drive before the half. So it would be nice to get into a two-minute situation and play the situation better than we have."
The Broncos also gave up a score just before halftime in a loss at Seattle two weeks ago.