It has been a long, winding, pain-filled road for Broncos guard Chris Kuper this season, but the prospect of playing in the first playoff game of his NFL career just might be the balm to make it all right.
"It's been a trying year for me," Kuper said. "I feel good. I'm doing my best out there to be ready to go. This is what I've been playing for since I've been here. I missed our (playoff) game last year because of injury, and I was doing everything I could to get back during the season, not just the playoffs."
Kuper, who was named the Broncos' Ed Block Courage Award winner Tuesday for his efforts in returning from injury, suffered a gruesome dislocated/fractured left ankle in the 2011 regular-season finale, then missed the first four games this season recovering from a fractured bone in his left forearm he suffered in training camp. He then missed five more games with pain in his surgically repaired left ankle.
He played on special teams only in two other games — New England and the regular-season finale against the Chiefs. The Broncos have surrendered 19 of their 21 sacks in games Kuper did not play on offense.
"He's had a positive attitude, he's worked hard, and he and I have spent a lot of time in the training room together," Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning said. "To see him back out there with the different things he's dealt with this year and years past, it's a great lift to the team. It would be great to have him in there this Saturday."
Running back Willis McGahee also returned, practicing for the first time since suffering a compression fracture and a torn MCL in his right knee Nov. 18 against San Diego.
McGahee, who still is on injured reserve but has been designated for return, can only practice this week but would be eligible to play in the AFC championship game if the Broncos win Saturday. McGahee took part in Tuesday's practice on a limited basis, wearing a black jersey with no number.
"It was really great to see Willis back on the practice field," Manning said. "I know he's got to go through this trial period, but I know how hard he's worked in rehab. He's been a huge part of our team this year. Just to see him back out was a real positive step."
Wide receiver Trindon Holliday (ankle) and tackle Ryan Clady, who did not take part in the Broncos' three bye-week practices, also were on the field Tuesday and are expected to play Saturday against the Ravens.