ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos suddenly find themselves with a list of injuries in the offensive line and will now face two of the league’s most productive pass rushers Sunday with a player they acquired to play guard -- Allen Barbre -- at right tackle.
Barbre has played tackle previously in his career and the Broncos have worked him there as well, but it does show their current state of affairs up front as they prepare to face the Los Angeles Chargers.
Right tackle Menelik Watson suffered a right calf injury in the Broncos’ loss to the New York Giants this past Sunday night and has been ruled out for Sunday’s game. Watson had not practiced this week, so that was expected.
What was not expected, however, is that Watson’s backup -- Donald Stephenson -- suffered what coach Vance Joseph called "a small tear in his lower calf" in Thursday’s practice. Stephenson was not at Friday’s practice and Joseph said after the workout that Stephenson, too, was ruled out for Sunday's game.
A versatile player in his 10th season, Barbre has also played some at left tackle for the Broncos in Week 2 against the Dallas Cowboys after rookie Garett Bolles was injured. And Barbre started three games at right tackle for the Eagles last season among his 12 starts overall.
"We’ll be fine, we’ll be fine," Joseph said. "You guys seem a lot more worried about it than I am."
Watson's future availability is uncertain and Stephenson could now miss multiple games as Joseph called him "week to week." The two injuries have come as the Broncos prepare for Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa, who are second and third, respectively, in the league in sacks with 7.5 and 5.5. They each had 1.5 sacks against the Broncos in the season opener.
Overall, the Broncos have already struggled mightily in the red zone, having turned just 2 of 11 red-zone trips into touchdowns in the last three games. And they haven’t always protected quarterback Trevor Siemian very well, being tied for 11th in the league with 18 sacks allowed.
Joseph said Friday that it all makes the Broncos’ run game, which had just 46 yards rushing in the loss to the Giants, all the more important against the Chargers.
“Trevor had a great week again. I expect that Trevor’s going to play well," Joseph said. “ ... That starts with our running game. When our running game is effective, that allows Trevor to play in his comfort zone."