Broncos guard Kuper returns

By ARNIE STAPLETON

Associated Press

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Chris Kuper put on pads for the first time in 214 days, snapped a few footballs to Peyton Manning and lined up some at guard Tuesday.

"I feel like a football player again," he said.

But he's a long way from being able to win a spot on the Denver Broncos' 53-man roster.

Before he can compete for a backup job, the former captain and anchor of Denver's offensive line has to get healthy.

Kuper's latest comeback try is from a second surgery on his jigsaw-like left ankle, which was grotesquely dislocated in the 2011 regular-season finale.

He admittedly rushed back last year and ended up hobbling through the playoff loss to Baltimore with a shattered plate in his repaired ankle that caused him to skip the Pro Bowl, where he was named an alternate despite having played in just seven regular-season games.

This second comeback has proven even tougher.

"The setback with the ankle surgery and the infection put me behind on the eight-ball. I wasn't able to rehab the way I wanted to and wasn't able to get my strength back and conditioning back," Kuper said. "That's how football works, that's how the NFL is. Every year you have to compete for a spot."

After making enough progress to get back on the field, Kuper agreed to a restructured contract Tuesday that reduced his 2013 salary from a non-guaranteed $4.5 million with a $1.05 million injury protection settlement to a guaranteed $1.05 million base, plus a chance to make another $1.7 million in incentives.

"I'm glad to be here and have a chance to hang around and compete for a job," Kuper said.

If Kuper makes the team, he'll almost certainly serve as a backup to guards Zane Beadles and Louis Vasquez, at least initially, although coach John Fox said he'll get a look at center, too.

Kuper has been the Broncos' emergency center in the past, but the last time he snapped the ball in a game was his junior year at North Dakota in 2004.

"It's all going to be a process, coming back and getting healthy and transitioning, trying to be the best at whatever position I can play," Kuiper said. "I'm just trying to earn a spot on the roster right now. The main thing is I have to get healthy enough to try to compete for that spot."