Broncos OL Tom Nalen done for season with right biceps tear

Updated: October 8, 2007, 8:28 PM ET
Associated Press

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos suffered much more than bruised egos from their worst home loss in 41 years.

Five-time Pro Bowl center Tom Nalen was lost for the season with a torn right biceps muscle, coach Mike Shanahan said Monday.

Nalen was hurt early in the Broncos' 41-3 loss to San Diego on Sunday, but still kept on playing.

"We couldn't even run inside running plays, had to run outside running plays," Shanahan said. "He didn't have any strength in there. It kind of gives you an idea of what he's made of."

The Broncos also lost tight end Nate Jackson for the season with a torn groin. Cornerback Champ Bailey, who injured his left quadriceps against the Chargers, should be ready for the Pittsburgh game on Oct. 21. The Broncos have a bye this week.

"If we were playing this week, I don't think he (Bailey) would be able to play," Shanahan said. "He should be fine for Pittsburgh."

Nalen is expected to have surgery within a week and will be out for close to four months. Shanahan didn't think the injury was career ending.

"He should be fine and ready to go next season," Shanahan said.

But filling Nalen's cleats will be difficult. Shanahan is not used to being without his star center.

Nalen hasn't missed a start since tearing a ligament in his left knee against Kansas City on Oct. 20, 2002. He had surgery to repair the knee and was back 10 months later in time to start the 2003 season, during which he earned his fifth Pro Bowl selection.

"Anytime you lose a great player it hurts you," Shanahan said.

Nalen ranks third in games played in team history with 194, trailing only Jason Elam (225) and John Elway (234).

"Tom, I believe, is the best center to ever play the game," Shanahan said of the 14-year veteran. "That's what I believe."

Nalen is the second starting offensive lineman to succumb to injury. The team lost guard Ben Hamilton to a concussion in training camp, and placed him on season-ending injured reserve Sept. 28.

Shanahan said Hamilton would've been the logical choice to slide in for Nalen had he not been injured.

Yet a recent conversation Shanahan had with Hamilton told the 13-year coach his lineman wasn't ready to return.

"You could tell he wasn't right," Shanahan said. "To see what he was going through, I didn't think it was very, very smart for him (to play)."

Chris Myers is listed as Nalen's backup on the Broncos' depth chart. Denver also has Greg Eslinger on the practice squad. Eslinger started all four seasons at center for the University of Minnesota.

Nalen injured his biceps muscle in the first quarter, but didn't want to leave, especially since the Broncos were lean at offensive line. The team only had guard Chris Kuper activated for the Chargers game.

"He just said it was a little sore," Shanahan said. "He knew he tore it early. ... That gives you an idea of his mental toughness and what he brings to the table.

"He's been that way since I've been here. It would surprise me if he didn't play with a broken leg. That's just the way he is."

The injury to Nalen is just another chapter for the banged-up Broncos. Receiver Javon Walker was held out for the second straight week with swelling in his surgically repaired right knee. He said he'll be ready for the Steelers.

Shanahan didn't share his rosy outlook.

"We'll find out," he said. "To say that right now is premature. To tell you for sure, I can't do that."

The same goes for Rod Smith, who's been on the physically unable to perform list as he recovers offseason hip surgery. He's eligible to come off the list after the bye week.

"Right now, I'd say he's not ready to go," Shanahan said. "He's making strides. He's jogging. But you can see he's not in football shape yet."

Shanahan said he's going to take the bye week to figure out the best solution at center. He knows he has a difficult task.

"Losing a guy like Tom Nalen is a big blow to our football team," Shanahan said.

Game notes
Shanahan didn't blame the fans for heading to the exits early in the fourth quarter Sunday. "I would have left, too," he said. "We normally don't play like that." ... RB Travis Henry is the second-leading rusher in the league with 498 yards. He's been hampered by right ankle and knee ailments, but Shanahan said he's fine. Henry remains in legal limbo while he fights the league over a drug test result. ... The Broncos released fifth-year defensive lineman Kenny Peterson, who had been suspended for the first month of the season after violating the league's policy on steroids and related substances. Peterson, who had been with the team since last October, said he took a metabolism pill that he didn't know contained a banned ingredient.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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