Plummer improved, but Beuerlein expects to start Sunday

Updated: October 10, 2003, 8:27 PM ET

DENVER -- While Denver Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer's shoulder injury appeared to be improving, backup Steve Beuerlein said Friday he was preparing as if he'll be the starter on Sunday against Pittsburgh.

Coach Mike Shanahan left the door open for Plummer to play, saying, "Jake is feeling a lot better, so that's a good sign. Unless there's a setback, he'll be ready to go."

Plummer, however, remained listed as questionable on the Broncos' injury report.

Plummer partially separated his throwing shoulder four weeks ago against San Diego, then aggravated the injury Sunday against Kansas City.

Too sore to practice Wednesday, Plummer worked out Thursday and Friday but wasn't asked to throw the ball more than 20 yards.

Beuerlein, who got significant work in practice all week, insisted he hasn't been told if he will start.

But, asked if he expected to be the starter on Sunday, he said, "I expect that to be the case right now. With the reps I took (Friday) and the general feeling I get, yeah. I've seen more surprising things happen in my life, but I would expect that to be the case."

Beuerlein added that "it's a lot easier to prepare to be the starter and then adjust back than it is to say I'm not going to play and all of a sudden be thrown in there."

Beuerlein started three games for the Broncos last season. "I'm much more comfortable in the offense now, and hopefully I'll eliminate the mistakes on Sunday and give our team a chance to win. All I have to do is play smart and let the rest take care of itself," he said.

Safety Kenoy Kennedy was downgraded from probable to questionable on Friday's injury report. Defensive tackle Daryl Gardener and tight end Shannon Sharpe also were listed as questionable, but both practiced on Friday. ^------=

^STILL SIDELINED:@ It has been a frustrating three months for defensive tackle Daryl Gardener, who was sidelined first by a wrist injury and then by a bacterial infection.

Gardener, who signed a seven-year, $34.8 million contract with Denver in the offseason, has yet to play a down this season.

Gardener underwent surgery after injuring his right wrist in an altercation outside an Aurora pancake house just before the start of training camp in July.

Last week, he became ill and was sent home, missing two practices. After experiencing swelling in his throat, he checked himself into a hospital, where he was diagnosed with a bacterial infection in his throat. Doctors removed an abscess from his throat.

This week, he is listed as questionable on the team's injury report -- mostly because his wrist has been slow to heal.

"I'm just not pleased right now," Gardener said. "They pay me to play. I can't produce. I've got to be the good soldier and go through my rehab and try to make it happen the best way I can."

Gardener said he was expecting to be "thrown out there with the limited use of my hand," but the coaching staff has taken the cautious approach.

"Gardener is looking better," Shanahan said. "I'm going to evaluate him (Saturday). But the good sign is he had contact (Thursday) and felt better (Friday). If he feels better (Saturday), then he has a good chance to go." ^------=

^EXTRA POINTS:@ A productive running game still is the key to success in the NFL. The Broncos (4-1) rank third in the NFL in rushing, averaging 165.2 yards per game. The top five rushing teams in the league have a combined record of 20-3. ... Denver ranks fourth in the NFL in total offense (371.8) and total defense (267.6) and is the only AFC team in the top five in both categories. ... The Broncos are 7-3-1 against the Steelers at home, including the playoffs. ... Denver has scored on 28 consecutive trips into the red zone (18 touchdowns, 10 field goals). ... Defensive ends Bert Berry (5.0) and Reggie Hayward (3.0) are the NFL's top sack duo. ... Pittsburgh leads the NFL in total defense (243.4) and pass defense (149.8).

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