Denver Broncos offensive lineman Chris Kuper unexpectedly returned to practice Tuesday, armed with a restructured contract and prepared for a battle to reclaim a regular role on a reshaped line.
"I'm just trying to earn a spot on the roster now," Kuper said. "The main thing is I have to get healthy enough to be able to compete for that spot."
Kuper was placed on the physically unable to perform list as he continues to recover from offseason surgery to help heal the ankle that he fractured on Jan. 1, 2012 and reinjured 10 months later in the season finale at Cincinnati. Kuper's long-time spot at right guard now belongs to free agent signee Louis Vasquez.
"He has been a captain in my tenure here and I know he is well respected in the locker room," coach John Fox said. "He is the kind of guy we are looking to have on our football team. Unfortunately for us and him, he has been injured and hopefully we can get him back out of that mode."
He was scheduled to earn $4.5 million in 2013 but agreed to restructure to $1.05 million, matching the amount of his injury settlement.
Kuper's surgery was the second on the ankle he first dislocated in the 2011 regular-season finale. He was limited to seven games last season and suffered injuries to his ankle and forearm and encountered a brief battle with migraines.
His first practice Tuesday might be an indication of where Kuper fits into the team's plans. The Broncos shuffled their offensive line because of injuries to J.D. Walton and Dan Koppen, signing Ryan Lilja out of retirement to help fill the void at the interior line spots.
Kuper worked as a center, snapping the ball to Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler, but he'll also get work as a backup to Zane Beadles and Vasquez.
"We will look at it," Fox said. "Guys have that flexibility. Inside people usually have center/guard flex and then you have people that have guard/tackle flex. When we pick our seven (active linemen) for the game on the 46 (-man roster), we'll have a swing guy at each spot and you just pray they stay healthy through the game."