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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Chris Clark is joining the superstar he couldn't beat.
The Denver Broncos traded the sixth-year tackle to the Houston Texans for a 2016 seventh-round draft pick Monday as they trimmed a dozen players in their first round of roster reductions.
In joint practices with the Texans last summer, Clark took exception when J.J. Watt pushed him around during a one-on-one pass-rushing drill and kept right on motoring toward the imaginary QB. Clark finally broke free with a swipe at the Texans star that sent the pass rusher's helmet bouncing on the ground.
"Don't get mad when you get beat," Watt hollered at Clark.
Clark, who started at left tackle in the Broncos' Super Bowl run in 2013, was supplanted at right tackle early this summer by Ryan Harris. He had been working as a backup to rookie left tackle Ty Sambrailo in recent weeks.
The move leaves second-year pro Michael Schofield as the swing tackle.
Two-time Pro Bowl left guard Evan Mathis, who signed last week, worked with the starters for the first time Monday, when wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders returned to the lineup. Entering his 11th season, he's certain he can get the system down and his timing together by the Sept. 13 opener against Baltimore.
"I have nothing else to do but go to the hotel and study," Mathis said. "Football is my life."
The man he supplanted, rookie Max Garcia, got some work at center behind Matt Paradis at a spirited practice as the Broncos began preparing him to serve as the backup guard/center on game day.
Sanders practiced for the first time since Aug. 6, when he pulled his right hamstring, and said he's on track for the opener.
"It feels good, really no pain at all," Sanders said. "I'm just happy to be back. I feel like my life is coming back together."
The only problem, he said, was his wind: "Right now it's Emmanuel 0, altitude 1."
Coach Gary Kubiak isn't just looking for Sanders to help settle things down on offense but also on special teams after a rash of muffed punts in the preseason.
Sanders welcomed the opportunity, saying, "I feel like I could be dangerous back there."
Omar Bolden, who fumbled a kickoff Saturday night, is listed as the starting punt returner. He sat out Monday's practice with sore ribs, the result of Anquan Boldin's illegal hit Saturday night that prompted Kubiak to call the league for clarification on the rules.
Also back at practice was linebacker Lerentee McCray, who missed most of camp with a pulled groin.
In addition to trading Clark, the Broncos placed rookie tight end Jeff Hauerman (ACL) on IR and cut 10 players, including veteran linebacker Reggie Walker and former No. 3 quarterback Zac Dysert, who was supplanted by seventh-round pick Trevor Siemian. They have to make three more moves to reach the 75-player limit Tuesday.
With the preseason finale against Arizona serving as the last auditions for the bottom rungs of the roster, the starters served as the scout team Monday, where a playful Peyton Manning was impressive — he even lined up at safety in some drills and directed his fellow defensive backs to scoot over.
"He's pretty good," Kubiak said, chuckling. "And then some of the scout team defense was pretty good, too, those two edges. No, it's good. It's good for those young guys. It's an important game for so many players. ... Whether or not they're here next week has a lot to do with how they play."
Surprisingly, one player who is looking at the final exhibition game to solidify his roster spot is former starting running back Montee Ball, who didn't get into the last game until the third-stringers went in.
"I was expecting a lot more playing time. It caught me off-guard, but my head's not down," Ball said. "I'm going to keep it up and keep fighting. It is tough because I feel like I really haven't had the opportunities in these preseason games, but there's still one more left and I'll show them what I can do."
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