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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Riding a mile high after their 24-17 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, the Broncos were brought back down to earth as they were hit hard with bad news on the injury front Monday.
Denver lost starting tight end Jeff Heuerman for the remainder of the season as he broke three ribs and bruised a lung in the fourth quarter of the team’s win.
“Obviously, Heuerman’s a big loss,” Vance Joseph stated on Monday. “We’ve lost three guys in that room so far with ‘Buttsy’ [Jake Butt] and [Troy] Fumagalli and now Jeff. He’s having a great year. He’s a great leader for that room. He’ll be missed.”
Heuerman wasn’t only the veteran of the group, he was having the best season of his career by far, nearly doubling his previous best in receiving yards and over tripling his receptions.
Through Denver’s 11 games, Heuerman had 31 catches for 281 yards and two touchdowns in 10 starts. In the previous three weeks, Heuerman became a safety net and favorite target of Case Keenum as he averaged over five catches and nearly 50 yards per game.
“We have some guys that we feel good about — [Matt] LaCosse, he’s playing good football and [Brian] Parker,” Joseph said on who will replace the team’s starting tight end. “Next man up. Better move on.”
LaCosse is the natural replacement for Heuerman as he’s really stepped into the No. 2 tight end role since Butt was lost for the season with a torn ACL.
Since Week 4, LaCosse has hauled in 14 passes for 171 yards on a 70 percent catch rate. On Sunday, he brought in his first career touchdown on a 10-yard pass in the middle of the field from Keenum.
According to Joseph, however, the Broncos may look outside the organization to fill Heuerman’s spot as John Elway is doing his research to find the best option to replace the former third-round pick.
If the team stays within the organization, they have tight end Temarrick Hemingway on their practice squad who they could activate to the 53-man roster. On Monday, Joseph said that’s “definitely an option.”
Hemingway, a former sixth-round pick by the Los Angeles Rams in 2016, and Parker have combined to catch one NFL pass. That lone catch was by way of Parker in 2015.
The Broncos sustained two more blows in their potentially season-altering victory on Sunday, both on the other side of the ball.
The first was a hip flexor injury to Shaq Barrett, which will likely sideline him a few weeks. Joseph officially deemed him as “week-to-week.”
“Obviously Shane Ray is next up,” Joseph said, identifying Barrett’s replacement. “He’s going to be the third rusher, and we’ll see how the game goes. We’ll have three guys for that position on gameday.”
Through Sunday, Barrett had been the team’s third pass rusher, spelling Von Miller and Bradley Chubb on 31.5 percent of the defensive snaps compared to Ray’s 26 percent.
Joseph also pointed to 2017 second-round pick DeMarcus Walker as a player who could see playing time due to Shaq being sidelined.
“We’ve got some options there, but obviously Shaq’s playing good football,” Joseph said before dishing him a massive compliment. “He played, in my opinion, the best yesterday out of all the rushers. He’s going to be missed. Especially on special teams.”
The final injury news to Denver wasn’t as serious as Tramaine Brock bruised a rib and is listed as day-to-day.
Brock was limited by his injury to just 32 snaps, or 41 percent of the total defensive snaps, on Sunday. Rookie third-round pick Isaac Yiadom filled in nicely for Brock, playing in 23 snaps.
If Brock is unable to play on Sunday against the Bengals, expect for Yiadom to once again get the nod as the team’s third cornerback.
Denver also has 2017 third-round pick Brendan Langley on the active roster.