ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Denver Broncos' thin group of wide receivers took another hit Saturday when the team promoted Matt Willis from its practice squad, a sign that Eddie Royal is unlikely to play Sunday.
Coach Josh McDaniels already is benching Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall and tight end Tony Scheffler for disciplinary reasons for the game against Kansas City with a playoff berth at stake.
If, as expected, a neck injury keeps Royal out for the second straight game, the Broncos would be left with Jabar Gaffney, Brandon Stokley, Brandon Lloyd and Willis at receiver. The four have combined for 58 catches and five TDs this season, about half of what Marshall has.
To make room for Willis, the Broncos waived tackle Herb Taylor for the second time this month.
McDaniels announced Friday that he was deactivating Marshall for the Broncos' biggest game of the season, insinuating the Pro Bowler was exaggerating the extent of a hamstring injury.
He said that he would call up Willis to the active roster if he deemed Royal a no-go during Saturday's walkthrough.
"He's the last guy standing in terms of the practice squad and if Eddie couldn't do it, then that would be the move that we'd made to make sure that we had at least four active" receivers, McDaniels said Friday.
Willis is a second-year pro who spent all season on Denver's practice squad. He appeared in five games for Baltimore in 2007.
The Broncos might also be without tight end Daniel Graham, who is listed as questionable with a knee injury, leaving rookie Richard Quinn as their only tight end. Quinn hasn't played a down yet.
Scheffler, one of several holdover players from the Mike Shanahan era whose production has dipped under McDaniels, found himself on the Broncos' scout team this week, evidently as punishment for complaining about his diminished role.
McDaniels' decision to bench Marshall and Scheffler 48 hours before the most pivotal game of the season didn't sit well in Denver's locker room, where teammates were irked by the timing of the move.
Anyone who chose to speak for the record, however, was diplomatic, choosing not to take sides publicly.
"It's a coach's decision and Coach is doing what's best for this team," said Graham, adding he wasn't surprised that McDaniels was taking the same no-nonsense approach of his mentor, Bill Belichick.
"We're professionals, we're all here to work," Graham said. "He expects everyone to come here and work and it's his decision and what he feels is best for the team."