The Denver Broncos' excitement over their scorching start is tempered by a serious injury to All-Pro left tackle Ryan Clady and the specter of being without Peyton Manning's protector on the blindside for a lengthy time.
Clady might miss the rest of the season or at least a good chunk of it with a sprained left foot.
While the team hasn't specified the exact nature or extent of his injury, it's believed to be a Lisfranc sprain, which usually involves a separation of ligaments and joints in the bottom of the foot and requires an arduous rehab.
The Broncos already have been without two of their other stars. All-Pro linebacker Von Miller is serving a six-game suspension and perennial Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey (foot) hasn't practiced since Aug. 17.
Clady was hurt in the closing minutes Sunday when Giants defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins rolled up on him while the Broncos were trying to run out the clock in their 41-23 win.
The Broncos were still contemplating their options with Clady on Tuesday. Among them: placing him on season-ending injured reserve or on IR with a designation to return, which would keep him out a minimum of eight weeks. That's a special one-time-only provision of IR that would allow Clady to return to practice in six weeks and rejoin the roster in Week 11, at the earliest.
Either way, their new left tackle is undrafted fifth-year journeyman Chris Clark, who coincidentally signed a two-year contract extension this week.
Clady wasn't in the locker room during the open access period Tuesday, and coach John Fox won't meet with the media again until Thursday.
Clark said Clady's spirits are up but that he didn't even ask him how long he'll be out.
"You know why? It really doesn't matter," Clark said. "I'm here to do a job and if my job is to start for however long, that's how it's going to be. Like I said, I've always viewed myself as a starter. In this league you can't view yourself as a backup, so I prepare myself as if I'm going to play every week."
The Broncos are riding high behind Manning, the first NFL quarterback ever to throw for nine touchdowns with no interceptions in the first two weeks of a season.
Clark, who has started six times at tight end, will make his first start at left tackle on Monday night when the Broncos (2-0) host the Oakland Raiders (1-1), who are tied for the league lead with nine sacks.
"I've been behind Ryan for a while now and I've learned a lot, so I can pick his brain without even talking to him," Clark said. "Just trying to do things the way he does things, mimic things he does but put my own twist on it is pretty much the way I play. I feel everything will be OK."
Manning leads the league with a 131.0 passer rating and he hasn't been intercepted in 85 pass attempts — thanks in part to the protection provided by Clady.
Clark put in plenty of work with Manning and the rest of the starters in the offseason while Clady was recuperating from right shoulder surgery and awaiting a new contract.
"That definitely helped a lot," Clark said. "You get a chance to learn different things, snap counts, learn his rhythm."
Clark said he realizes that anybody would be a downgrade from Clady, a three-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro who allowed just one sack in more than 1,110 snaps last season and has played in all 85 of Denver's games since entering the NFL in 2008 as the 12th overall pick. That dominance and durability led to a five-year, $52.5 million contract this summer.
"It's not about filling a guy's shoes for me," Clark said. "It's about me creating my legacy or whatever, just helping the team the best way I can, doing my job."
Clark said his aim right now is to make sure the Broncos' Super Bowl aspirations aren't derailed because of Clady's injury.
"No one wants to be that guy," Clark said.
Notes: FS Duke Ihenacho (sprained right ankle) tweeted that he'll definitely play Monday night. He leads the team with 18 tackles.
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