NEW YORK - Five players who combined for 2,545 defensive snaps this season have been conspicuously absent from most of the Denver Broncos' activities leading up to Sunday's Super Bowl.
They are some of the Broncos' biggest defensive names - defensive end Von Miller (nine starts), cornerback Chris Harris (16 starts, including one postseason game), defensive linemen Derek Wolfe and Kevin Vickerson (11 starts each) and safety Rahim Moore (10 starts) - and they are on the injured list and were told they couldn't travel with their teammates to New Jersey. Instead, they flew to the New York area Thursday, arriving in the evening along with the Broncos' family contingent of spouses and children.
Two people with knowledge of the injured players' situation told USA TODAY Sports the players were disappointed to be left behind, to be unable to participate in events such as media day, game-plan meetings and the official Super Bowl team picture. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the situation.
The only player on the Broncos' injured reserve who arrived early in the week is left tackle Ryan Clady, hurt in the second game of the season. He flew to the New York area on his own. He was at media day but not as an official participant.
Denver Broncos coach John Fox said the decision was made to leave the injured players in Denver so the team could better focus the players who would be playing on Sunday.
"When you're a decision maker, you have to draw the line. And in my experience in being in that role for some time now is that depending on where you are on that line, you're not going to please everybody," Fox said.
The most high-profile player on the Seattle Seahawks' injured reserve list is wide receiver Sidney Rice, who tore his ACL in late October. Rice has been with the team all week, Seahawks spokesman Dave Pearson said.
The Broncos, who have five other players on injured reserve who did not play in a game this season, employed a similar tactic as the Green Bay Packers from their Super Bowl trip three years ago. Several star injured Packers, including tight end Jermichael Finley and linebacker Nick Barnett, were among the 16 players who didn't travel to Dallas until late in Super Bowl week.
But last year's Super Bowl teams both brought every player on the roster to the Super Bowl in New Orleans. For the Baltimore Ravens, that group included linebacker Jameel McClain, on injured reserve with a neck injury. McClain told USA TODAY Sports on Friday that he was very surprised the Broncos did not do the same.
"I think it's messed up, because those guys were a part of the team," McClain said. "I think, from my experience, I think it's a bad look, to be honest."
McClain and his injured teammates were included in every facet of the Ravens' Super Bowl experience, as were injured members of the San Francisco 49ers. Niners receiver Mario Manningham, who tore his ACL late in the 2012 regular season, participated in media day on crutches last year at the Super Dome.
"It's important, because the worst thing when you're injured is to feel separate. It's automatic when you get injured, because you're not a part of that world. If the coaches go out of their way, like the Ravens did, to include us and make sure you feel involved, when you come back you're still a part of the team," McClain said.
McClain said he figured the Broncos might have been trying to eliminate a potential distraction that could occur by having some players around who couldn't practice and couldn't play. But he said that was never an issue for the Ravens last year in New Orleans.
"They trusted us enough to know we weren't going to put the team in any sort of situation where we could embarrass the organization," McClain said.
Broncos players missed their injured teammates, but they tried to stay in touch during the week. Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, who called Vickerson is like a "twin brother," said Vickerson has continued to help the Broncos' defensive linemen prepare for games and has been serving as a mentor for his replacement, rookie first-round pick Sylvester Williams.
"We're looking forward to his two cents, and I'm sure we'll apply it on Sunday," Knighton said.
Two of the injured Broncos did not return phone calls from USA TODAY Sports, and a third, Harris, declined to comment.
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