In this photo taken Friday, Aug. 7, 2015, Denver Broncos outside linebacker Brandon Marshall takes a break from drills at the team's NFL football training camp in Englewood, Colo. Marshall, who is the top tackler on the top-ranked defense in the NFL, coul
David Zalubowski
December 31, 2015

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Brandon Marshall's sprained right ankle aches. Not nearly as much as his heart, though.

The Denver Broncos inside linebacker is dealing with a tender ankle and the death of his best friend. It's been a trying week for the No. 1 tackler on the top-ranked defense.

This is no time to sit, though, especially with an AFC West title on the line for Denver (11-4) against San Diego (4-11) on Sunday in the regular season finale. There's also a first-round bye at stake, which would give everyone a chance to heal up heading into the postseason.

''I think our injury list is one of the longest in the league right now. So (a bye) would be huge,'' said Marshall, who missed practice Thursday. ''Everybody needs it. Got a lot to play for this weekend.''

Marshall tweaked his ankle in an overtime win over Cincinnati on Monday when he tackled Giovani Bernard and someone rolled over his foot.

The heartache, now that will linger.

Earlier this week, Marshall attended the funeral of 27-year-old Kaillon Brown, who had cerebral palsy and died from complications of pneumonia on Dec. 13.

''It was tough. I didn't know he was going to pass that quickly,'' the 26-year-old Marshall said. ''I knew his condition was worsening. But I didn't think he would die at 27.

''He was my best friend.''

Marshall, who also lost his grandfather to pneumonia last summer, is having a stellar season, topping the Broncos with 101 tackles. That's one ahead of linebacker Danny Trevathan, making them the first Broncos tandem to reach the 100-tackle plateau since D.J. Williams and Brian Dawkins in 2009.

''I knew me and Danny were destined for greatness this year,'' said Marshall, a fourth-year player out of Nevada.

Still, the cornerbacks get the adoration - Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib were selected to the Pro Bowl. Same with the pass rushers, where Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware also made the Pro Bowl squad.

But Marshall, a Pro Bowl alternate, and Trevathan just may be the soul of a squad that's allowing an NFL-low 4.4 yards per play.

''Brandon and Danny have been amazing,'' Harris said. ''Those guys have had Pro Bowl years.''

To think, both were question marks heading into the year as they recovered from injuries. Trevathan fractured his left knee last season and his absence created an opening for Marshall, who had a team-high 110 tackles despite missing the final two games with a foot injury that required offseason surgery.

Marshall and Trevathan have flourished in defensive coordinator Wade Phillips' system, with Marshall serving as the unit's signal caller.

''Both of them have over 100 tackles and that's what we expect from the inside linebackers in our 3-4 defense,'' Phillips said. ''We expect them to be in position to make plays; they've got to make the plays. Both those guys have made plays for us.''

So far, Marshall hasn't been able to run on his sprained right ankle. He is jogging in a swimming pool.

''Hopefully I'll be able to play,'' said Marshall. ''We'll see.''

If Marshall is held out this weekend, Todd Davis will get his second start of the season. He filled in for an injured Trevathan on Dec. 13 against Oakland.

''They've got a ton of guys that can fly around and make plays,'' Chargers tight end Antonio Gates said. ''I'm quite sure they would pick up the slack at any instance if a guy is banged up. They've got guys that can step in and play.''

NOTES: QB Peyton Manning had his first full practice since Nov. 13 as he returned to team workouts as Brock Osweiler's backup. ... TE Owen Daniels (knees/shoulder) didn't practice Thursday as the Broncos went through workouts in their indoor facility. ''He's beat up,'' coach Gary Kubiak said. ... Kubiak reminded his players to take it easy on New Year's Eve. ''I know it's a big night ... but they also know it's a big week,'' Kubiak said. ... WR Emmanuel Sanders is receiving a break from fielding punts because, ''we felt like we were overloading him a little bit,'' Kubiak said.

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AP Pro Football writer Arnie Stapleton contributed.

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

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