Manning, Marshall return to Broncos practice

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Judging by the scarcity of players working with strength and conditioning coach Luke Richesson to the side, the bye week did the battered Denver Broncos an abundance of good.

Denver had listed 22 players on its injury report before the season finale against Oakland, when safety David Bruton Jr. and left guard Orlando Franklin sustained concussions.

Those were the only players who weren't between the lines Monday when the Broncos (12-4) began preparations for their playoff game against Indianapolis (12-5).

Most notable among them were Peyton Manning (age 37) and top tackler Brandon Marshall (sprained foot). Manning sat out all of last week's workouts and Marshall practiced for the first time since getting hurt at San Diego on Dec. 14.

''Yeah, it was much needed,'' said fourth-year safety Rahim Moore. ''I needed it, our team needed it, especially guys like Peyton, who's been playing since I came out the womb.''

Lest that gets back to the five-time MVP, Manning might want to know Moore also compared him to a luxury sports car roadster, not an old jalopy.

Moore said the bye ''was good for Peyton because it recharges him, makes him feel refreshed. He's an older guy. He needs it. You can't run a Ferrari - or no, a Bugatti - too much. He's our Bugatti. That's how Peyton is to his team, so you've got to give him some rest.''

After the tuneup, the Broncos are eager to rev that engine again.

''We've got to get back to work,'' Moore said. ''We went from 100 (mph) to zero. Now we're trying to get back to 100.''

Joining Manning and Marshall on the practice fields wreathed by a good foot of snow were receivers Demaryius Thomas (ankle, finger), Emmanuel Sanders (back) and Wes Welker, all of whom missed the pair of indoor practices that preceded their three-day break.

Tight end Julius Thomas, who had three TD catches against Indy in the regular-season opener, was among the players who most appreciated the bye. He's been bothered by a bum ankle and hasn't reached the end zone since Nov. 9.

''It was a big week for me. It was good to get some rest,'' he said. ''Every doctor will tell you the most important thing is rest, but it's tough to do in the middle of the season.''

With their bye week coming way back in September, the Broncos felt that not having to play on wild-card weekend would do them a world of good. Now, it's a matter of making sure all that rest and relaxation doesn't turn into rust and ruin.

''Our bye this year came way earlier than most byes, probably the earliest I've ever had a bye,'' coach John Fox said. ''So, in some ways I think this year was even more important to have the bye. But it's like holding Jell-O. There is no perfect answer. Somebody mentioned six of the last nine Super Bowl champions came through the wild-card round. So, really, the key is just playing your best football when you get to the elite eight, however you get there.''

Also back on the field was Pro Bowl safety T.J. Ward, who missed the season finale with a neck injury.

''I feel better. That's all I'm going to tell you guys,'' Ward said with a laugh. ''But I feel better.''

Although he didn't push it Monday, Marshall's return served to rejuvenate Denver's defense.

''It's good to see him out there,'' nose tackle Terrance Knighton said. ''He's not quite himself yet, obviously. He didn't take much of the team reps but we'll be fine. It's still a long week, a lot of days left and he'll be ready by Sunday.

''Luckily, we've played well enough in the season to get a bye week, which helped us, because if we played last week, Brandon Marshall probably doesn't play and T.J. is probably a little rusty,'' Knighton said. ''Those three days off allowed people to refocus and it's almost like a new season now.''

That fits right into Fox's philosophy.

''I've always described it as three different levels: there's preseason, there's regular season and then the real season,'' Fox said. ''And that's the playoffs.''

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

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