By Arnie Stapleton, AP Pro Football Writer
High draft picks Ty Sambrailo and Jeff Heuerman can shake their monikers as men of mystery this weekend.
Both are being pressed into duty when the Broncos (2-0) visit the Cincinnati Bengals (1-1).
Sambrailo, a second-round draft pick last year, stepped in at left tackle in 2015 when Ryan Clady went on injured reserve, but his own season was over within three weeks because of a shoulder injury. This summer, he missed his chance to regain a starting job because he hyperextended his right elbow early in camp and only recently returned to health.
“I think this game will be a full year of time not playing football,” said Sambrailo, who was injured last Sept. 27 at Detroit. “So, I’m excited to get back out there and change what this anniversary means.”
Sambrailo could step in at right tackle for Donald Stephenson (calf) or at right guard with Michael Schofield moving over to the edge.
“We love the athlete, and he played a lot early on for us last year so we feel pretty comfortable that he knows what to do,” offensive coordinator Rick Dennison said.
Heuerman is another story.
He blew out an ACL at rookie minicamp not long after the hugs and handshakes of the draft when the Broncos selected the big tight end out of Ohio State in the third round. He, too, missed large chunks of training camp with hamstring and ankle injuries.
Coach Gary Kubiak ruled Virgil Green (calf) out on Friday and said Heuerman and veteran John Peters will fill in.
While Peters provides good blocking and experience, Heuerman is a big target — 6-5 and 255 pounds — for QB Trevor Siemian, who will need another outlet should Marvin Lewis’s schemes take out either Emmanuel Sanders or Demaryius Thomas the way the Bengals have neutralized Steelers star Antonio Brown and Jets receiver Brandon Marshall.
“Now it’s time for Jeff to step up,” Kubiak said.
“Yes, it’s about time,” Heuerman said. “I do need to get in there and make some plays and help this team win.”
Dennison and Kubiak envision big things for Heuerman in this West Coast offense that’s been hampered by injuries at tight end since last season.
“He’s such a big guy. He’s long. He does a lot of things. It’s just a matter of if he’s ready to go and where he’s fitting in,” said Dennison. “Obviously, we liked Jeff enough to draft him pretty high.”
Kubiak trusts he’ll soon be talking about Heuerman’s productivity and not just his potential. He lauded his intelligence, his blocking skills and his ability to beat man coverage. He said being around Phillips has helped him, too.
“You just sit here and keep your fingers crossed for Jeff,” Kubiak said. “He’s been battling his tail off to be a part of this thing and he’s going back pretty close to where he went to school. It’s going to be a big weekend for him.”
Heuerman figures there’s no better place to make his NFL debut than Paul Brown Stadium.
“It’s pretty cool. I have a lot of people coming to the game,” he said. “I’ve actually played in that stadium. We played a spring game there a couple of years ago, my sophomore or junior year spring game, and it was good.”