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Shula to call Broncos' plays Sunday after Shurmur is put in COVID protocol

Denver won't have its usual play-caller for the game Sunday against the Eagles but QB coach Mike Shula has 9 years of NFL offensive coordinator experience.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — COVID-19 is threatening to break the Broncos' momentum just as it was on the upswing.

After six players tested positive for the virus over a 16-day period, the Broncos' coaching staff got hit Friday morning when offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur tested positive. The Broncos will not expected to have their play-caller for their game Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles at Empower Field at Mile High.

Broncos head coach Vic Fangio initially attempted to keep Shurmur's replacement a secret but decided Friday afternoon that quarterbacks coach Mike Shula would assume the duties. Shula has been an offensive coordinator for 9 seasons in the NFL, most notably for Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers from 2013-17.

Credit: AP Photo/David Zalubowski
Denver Broncos quarterbacks coach Mike Shula, second from left, directs, from left to right, tight end Albert Okwuegbunam, wide receivers Diontae Spencer, Tyrie Cleveland and DaeSean Hamilton and running back Royce Freeman in a drill during an NFL football practice in empty Empower Field at Mile High, Saturday, Aug. 29, 2020, in Denver.

Running backs coach Curtis Modkins, who was offensive coordinator for Buffalo (2010-12) and the 49ers (2016) also figures to have input on running calls.

But it will be Shula who relays the play calls to quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

Credit: AP
Curtis Modkins

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Shurmur is coming off his best game of the season as a play-caller as the Broncos had a balanced attack of runs (191 yards combined from running backs Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon III) and passes (Bridgewater was 19 of 28 for 249 yards including a 44-yard touchdown throw to Tim Patrick) while building a 30-0, fourth quarter lead Sunday against the Cowboys in Dallas. 

The six players who have tested positive for the virus: Backup guard Netane Muti, starting tight end Noah Fant, backup quarterback Drew Lock, backup inside linebacker Justin Strnad, injured backup cornerback Michael Ojemudia and backup guard-center Austin Schlottmann. Muti and Lock have been cleared and activated back on the Broncos' 53-man roster. Fangio said Lock would be cleared on Monday.

“It’s been a huge concern,'' said defensive lineman Dre'Mont Jones. "I feel like guys left and right are getting popped with the COVID card. I’m just trying to do my part, avoid it, wear my mask, do my due diligence.’’

Shurmur is the first coach to be stricken with the virus this year.

"Mike will call a great game,'' Shurmur said via text with 9News.

Last year, Modkins, offensive line coach Mike Munchak and defensive coordinator Ed Donatell all missed time because of the virus, as did several players -- including all four quarterbacks from a late-November game against New Orleans.

A recent New York Times survey said Colorado is No. 1 in COVID case percentage increase among the 50 American states.

Bronco Bits

Denver's two starting offensive tackles, Garett Bolles and Bobby Massie, have been ruled out of the game Sunday against the Eagles. Both have ankle injuries. Bolles will be replaced for a second consecutive game by Calvin Anderson at left tackle. Cam Fleming, a 16-game starter for the Giants last season, will get his first start this year for the Broncos at right tackle. The Broncos are expected to elevate Quinn Bailey from their practice squad to serve as their backup tackle. ...

The Broncos had a whopping 10 players listed as questionable on their final injury report for the week. Receiver Tim Patrick (knee), tight end Albert Okwuegbunam (knee), inside linebacker Baron Browning (back), left guard Dalton Risner (foot) and defensive lineman Shelby Harris (illness) are among those on the probably side of questionable. Rookie cornerback Pat Surtain II (knee) was expected to be on the doubtful side of questionable but he did practice Friday.

RELATED: Broncos fans 'strongly encouraged' to wear masks in indoor spaces

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