ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) The Denver Broncos are preparing for 2016 without their starting defensive end while anticipating the return of one of their most important defenders.
The loss of veteran Vance Walker to a torn ACL in his right knee has given some young players a chance to move into his starting role. Meanwhile, linebacker DeMarcus Ware, who participated in drills Tuesday, is expected to return to practice within a week.
''He's real close,'' coach Gary Kubiak said. ''I think you'll see him be a part of the team here in about four, five days. He's made that much progress. So hopefully next week I'm talking to you guys about him.''
Ware has not practiced yet while dealing with back issues. He was placed on the non-football injury/illness list at the start of training camp, but the sight of him on the hill beyond practice Tuesday was a sign that he is almost back.
It was good news for the Broncos after a tough day Monday. Walker went down early in practice and was carted off the field. An MRI revealed the torn ACL that will most likely cost him the season.
''It's huge losing Vance. He was a great rotational guy for us last year,'' cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. ''We have so much depth on the D-line, one of those young guys will have a great opportunity to step up.''
Jared Crick is getting the first crack at taking over Walker's spot. Crick played four years with Houston before Denver signed him as an unrestricted free agent in April.
''I'm taking the same mindset, no matter where I'm at on the field or what my role is,'' Crick said. ''When it comes to game time, wherever they put me that's fine. I'll know I've prepared the right way. If everybody prepares like a starter, the second they get into the game they're fine.''
He will get a chance to impress when the Broncos practice against San Francisco on Wednesday and Thursday ahead of the teams' preseason game in Denver on Saturday night. The practices against the 49ers are expected to be physical, so the Broncos held a light, 90-minute practice Tuesday without pads or helmets.
''We had a good practice (Monday) in pads and pretty quick and light today,'' Kubiak said.
The Broncos are looking forward to hitting another team after spending most of the last three weeks going at each other. The strain of training camp showed Monday when Harris and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders got into a fight at the end of a play in which they were matched up against each other.
The players shook hands before practice ended.
''It's football, man,'' Harris said. ''We're good.''
Saturday's game will have more star power for Denver. Linebacker Von Miller and guard Russell Okung are expected to play after sitting out against Chicago on Thursday, and Harris also could get in.
Kubiak indicated he will use the same plan for his quarterbacks against the 49ers. Mark Sanchez played the first quarter against the Bears, Trevor Siemian played the second and rookie Paxton Lynch ran the team in the second half.
Cornerback Aqib Talib has been going through full practices but will not play against San Francisco. Kubiak said the goal is to have him play in the third preseason game, against the Los Angeles Rams.
NOTES: NT Sylvester Williams was excused from practice for personal reasons. ... S Ryan Murphy and CB Taurean Nixon were again held out of practice.