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Health, depth both key to Denver's success

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Health, depth both key to Denver's success

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) On almost a daily basis, John Fox needs about as little time to roll through the Broncos injury report as it takes cornerback Chris Harris to return an interception 98 yards for a touchdown.

In a league where injuries can make or break a team's season, it's Denver's lack of them, along with its ability to replace the few players who do go out, that has turned the Broncos into legitimate Super Bowl contenders with a nine-game winning streak.

Led by starting-caliber performances from Harris and running back Knowshon Moreno, Denver (11-3) heads into the final stretch of the season looking pretty much the way the front office envisioned the roster on opening day.

``All in all, I'd say our personnel department's done an outstanding job,'' Fox said. ``You try to pick your best 53 and have confidence that all of them can play when called upon.''

Moreno ran for 118 yards on 22 carries against the Ravens last Sunday. He has rushed for 391 yards since filling in for one of Denver's few injured stars, Willis McGahee, who went down with a knee injury on Nov. 18.

On the other side of the ball, Harris had the longest interception return for a touchdown in Denver's regular-season history on Sunday. His 98-yard return down the sideline was his second score this year. Both have come since he replaced Tracy Porter at cornerback opposite Champ Bailey.

``He's a tough cover guy in practice, whether he's going against (Brandon) Stokley, (Eric) Decker, or (Demaryius) Thomas, it's been that way all season,'' said Peyton Manning, whose own health, top on Denver's list of preseason concerns, has held up so far this year. ``With our secondary, there have been some good challenges.''

Moreno was a first-round draft pick who lost his job and was working on the scout team as recently as four weeks ago. Harris was an undrafted free agent from Kansas.

Mix in 10-year veteran Dan Koppen at center and 15-year veteran Keith Brooking at linebacker and the picture is clear: By staying patient with the players they have and keeping a sharp eye on who's available in the free agent market, the Broncos haven't gone backward on the few occasions when they've lost starters.

``There's never a week you can let up, never a day you can ease up,'' said the team's leading tackler, Wesley Woodyard, whose linebacker position has endured the most flux this year, with an injury to Joe Mays and the nine-game suspension of D.J. Williams.

Woodyard said having depth isn't only a help when players go down.

``You've always got to be at your best because the guy behind you is just as good as you, and everyone wants to be in there,'' he said. ``They can make plays, too. You've got to be focused and be on your game every week.''

Nobody personified that idea better than Moreno. The fourth-year veteran was relegated to the scout team, set back by the lingering effects of a knee injury and a lost fumble during Week 2, which sent him to the bottom of the depth chart.

Only when McGahee got injured did Moreno get another chance.

Growing more confident with each week he's in the lineup, Moreno is finding and moving toward the holes more quickly. Last week, he had his second straight 100-yard game, the highlight of which came when he hurdled Ravens safety Ed Reed.

``Just being prepared and working,'' Moreno said when asked how he handled the eight straight weeks he was inactive on game day. ``Just basically playing my role. Also, if I wasn't going to play on Sundays, I was going to give it my all in practice. It was just having faith that maybe down the road I'd get my chance again.''

Harris was also just a guy looking for a chance.

A starter for most of his four years at Kansas, he spent three long days during the draft and his phone never rang.

Only when the draft was over did he get a call from the Broncos, asking him to come to camp as a free agent. He was a long shot to make the roster, but quickly showed he can play. He has also shown a knack for the ball: Harris' 98-yard pick and return against Joe Flacco adds to a 46-yard interception return for a score Oct. 15 against San Diego.

Harris has cemented himself in the starting job that initially belonged to Porter, who hasn't been active since Oct. 7, shortly before doctors began trying to regulate the medicine he uses to control seizures. Porter returned to practice Nov. 22.

Along with 2011 free agent pickup Tony Carter and another savvy free agent signing - eighth-year safety Jim Leonhard was available in August - the defensive backfield has options if anyone beyond Porter goes out.

``You see a guy practice and they practice great and that's why they're still on the team,'' Bailey said. ``But when it's time to go out there and do it, some guys don't do what they did in practice. These guys do. They're doing exactly what I've seen since they got here. I'm just glad that now that they've gotten the opportunity to play, they're taking advantage of it.''

Notes: The Broncos had to practice indoors for the first time this season because of a snowstorm that rolled through town Wednesday morning. ... Denver signed OL Lonnie Edwards to the practice squad to replace Quentin Saulsberry, who was suspended for four games after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance. ... Moreno was listed on the injury report (ribs) but practiced fully. Trainers were checking on him on the sideline in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game.

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NFL unveils new Oakley mouth shield to mitigate spread of coronavirus

NFL unveils new Oakley mouth shield to mitigate spread of coronavirus

Get your styling Ray-Bans ready for Sunday's this fall. 

In a partnership with Oakley, the NFL took another step on Wednesday evening in figuring out how to best go forth with the 2020 season in the safest possible way. The league unveiled its all-new mouth shields as the latest piece of technology to try and ensure football Sunday's won't be another item added to the long list of cancelations this year. 

With a large focus of the company's lifestyle products going towards an irrefutable style, it's no wonder Oakley decided to use the slick black Baltimore Ravens helmets to demonstrate. 

RELATED: NFL ANNOUNCES FINEABLE VIOLATIONS OF COVID CONDUCT

But in all seriousness, the impact these mouth shields can have seems to be more than ten-fold in an ever-changing society from a health and safety perspective. As one of the most contact-filled sports there is, professional football is going to have to adapt to life under a pandemic and these innovative new features are doing well to do just that. 

According to an NFL release, the mouth shields fit right inside the inner-linings of the facemask and sport skinny slits in it to enhance breathing capabilities while reducing air particle transmission.

It's still in the drafting phases of constructing the best possible helmet additions, and after players and manufacturers send some notes back to Oakley and the NFL, the mouth shields will surely improve. 

While it seems unlikely there is going to be a final version of the mouth shields that completely eliminate the chances of contracting COVID-19, it's going to be technology like this that will make the 2020 season a possibility. 

Stay connected to the Ravens and Orioles with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.

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Ravens WR Willie Snead: ‘Can you imagine the fall with no football at all? I mean, I can’t’

Ravens WR Willie Snead: ‘Can you imagine the fall with no football at all? I mean, I can’t’

Willie Snead IV can’t imagine what fall would look like without football.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the NFL to adjust its offseason schedule, each team around the league scrambled to make changes to its offseason programs. 

By all accounts, the Ravens have made things as easy as possible for players to make the transition in Owings Mills to remain socially distant. Their hope is to make playing actual games — still not a guarantee — as easy as possible.

Despite challenges in Major League Baseball, there’s not a lot of doubt from people around the league about whether a season can happen.

“I know basketball is going,” Snead said on a Zoom call with reporters Wednesday. “I know baseball is going right now. But, when football comes around, can you imagine the fall with no football at all? I mean, I can’t. So, it’s going to be an adjustment without fans, especially in training camp, but I know once we start rolling on Sundays, I know the whole environment in our nation is going to change.”

Around the facility, players are constantly being reminded to keep their distance, wash their hands and wear their masks.

“I feel like, here, they’re doing a great job of just having everything...Locker rooms — we got separated lockers,” Marquise Brown said. “We got monitors to track how close we are to people. They’re making it as safe as possible, and that was something that everybody was skeptical about — how it would be. But once we got here, we were like, ‘This could work.’”

Both Snead and Brown made significant changes to their bodies in quarantine, as Snead dropped seven pounds and Brown added about 20. In quarantine, there was still a sense of normalcy as both players worked out for the upcoming season. 

RELATED: Mark Ingram sees COVID-19 issues with MLB, preaches positive mindset

At the Ravens’ facility, however, with all the precautionary measures in place, there’s no real escape from how different the 2020 season is set to be. 

“You have to take these tests every day,” Snead said. “Coming in, we had to wait a week to get in the building, which was different. But once we got into the building, I could just tell the Ravens organization in itself took that next step of making sure everybody is safe. Everybody is doing everything they have to do to make sure that we are all being safe, staying clean, and just making sure that we are taking care of ourselves, at the end of the day.”

With those specific measures in place the hope is to have a full, and as normal as possible, regular season.

“I know the NFL and the NFLPA took the best steps to make sure that we can have football this year,” Snead said. “And when it comes down to it, every guy has to hold themself accountable to make sure that they’re ready for Sundays, they’re healthy for Sundays. And hopefully, we can make sure this thing goes all the way.”

Stay connected to the Ravens and Orioles with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.

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