Broncos' secondary finally getting healthier

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) The Denver Broncos received a triple dose of good news with word that starting safeties T.J. Ward and Darian Stewart are expected to return to the lineup and they won't have to face Cincinnati tight end Tyler Eifert on Monday night.

''He's got 12 touchdowns in the red zone, so that's his part of the field,'' Stewart said about Cincinnati's terrific tight end. ''Not having him I guess is a big loss for them. So, we're going to be all right, man. We've just got to go out there and play ball and just know where their playmakers are.''

Jeremy Hill, who has rushed for 10 touchdowns, will be in the backfield Monday night. A.J. Green, who has 1,206 yards receiving and eight touchdown grabs, will line up outside.

Quarterback Andy Dalton (hand) is sidelined along with Eifert, who was ruled out Saturday with a concussion.

The Broncos (10-4) are expecting Ward to return from a nearly monthlong absence. He sprained his left ankle in the first quarter of Denver's win over New England on Nov. 29. And Stewart is expected to return from a strained hamstring that sidelined him last weekend when the Broncos lost at Pittsburgh.

''We've been missing half of our secondary the past several games,'' lamented defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.

Stewart and Ward are both officially listed as 50-50 but said they anticipate returning to the lineup Monday night against the Bengals (11-3).

''I felt good about their work today,'' Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said.

The Broncos have had several safeties sidelined during their two-game skid in which they've blown double-digit halftime leads in each loss.

''We're getting everybody back, so we're going to be all right this week, man,'' Stewart said.

Well, not everybody.

Omar Bolden will miss his third consecutive game with a pulled right hamstring and the Broncos placed David Bruton Jr. on IR this week with a broken right leg.

They replaced Bruton with free agent Shaun Prater, a fourth-year pro who played a game each for the Colts and Vikings this season.

Prater transitioned from cornerback to safety during the Vikings' offseason workouts. He's bounced between 190 and 199 pounds depending on which position he's being asked to play.

''Teams that want me to play safety, I try to gain more weight. Teams that want me to play corner, I try to stay where I'm fast,'' said Prater, who weighed 191 pounds when he signed with Denver on Tuesday.

He said he would add a meal and two shakes to his daily diet to get to 195 by Monday night. This being the holidays, he didn't think that would be difficult, either.

Prater is one of three newcomers at safety. Shiloh Keo gave up the winning touchdown catch two weeks ago against Oakland five days after joining the team. Josh Bush was in camp with the Broncos, played two games with Buffalo following his release in October and returned this month to Denver. He's forced a fumble and intercepted a pass in his three games with the Broncos.

''Josh is back like he never left,'' Stewart said. ''It's good to have him. He's part of us, man. He deserves the shot that he's getting.''

Bush played against the Bengals while in Buffalo, so he said this week's game is kind of like a divisional rematch for him.

Stewart also has familiarity with the Bengals, having played in Baltimore last season.

AJ McCarron gets his second start when the Bengals try to win a Monday night road game for the first time since 1990. He led the Bengals past San Francisco 24-14 last week in his first career start.

Bolden had hoped to return this week but now is targeting the regular season finale against San Diego.

''I know we need me back,'' Bolden said. ''I'm feeling better this week. The only tough thing with my injury is I'm a speed guy and my injury causes me not to go fast. ... I can't put myself in bad situations and put my team in bad situations.''


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