The Denver Broncos wrapped up their final practice of the week before they complete a walkthrough on Friday and head off to Detroit for Saturday’s showdown with the Lions. After missing Wednesday’s practice, the Broncos saw one of their key defensive players return.

Broncos safety P.J. Locke returns to Thursday’s practice

P.J. Locke returned to Thursday’s practice inside the Pat Bowlen Fieldhouse after missing Wednesday’s practice with a neck injury. Locke’s return was a promising sign on Thursday considering the impact he’s had for the Broncos defense since stepping into the starting role after Kareem Jackson’s suspension.

With Jackson set to return next week against the New England Patriots, Locke has arguably run away with the right to maintain his spot at safety with how he’s played. Locke has accumulated a sack in each of Denver’s last three games and has been an impact player for them.

He is officially listed as questionable for Saturday’s game, which means that the Broncos safety could still miss the matchup. If that were to happen, second-year safety Delarrin Turner-Yell would be the next in line to start opposite of veteran Justin Simmons.

Locke will be a game-time decision for Saturday night and should have a big impact if he does play. Part of the Broncos recent success defensively has been attributed to their ability to get after the quarterback, which will be an important key against the Lions.

“I would say it starts with the ability to speed the clock up,” Broncos head coach Sean Payton said on Thursday. “When we all used to play football in the streets, we’d have a ‘three Mississippi’ or ‘four Mississippi’ rusher. If you can get it to ‘two-and-a-half Mississippi’—in other words, if he’s having to get rid of the ball quicker, that helps the back end. Between the coverage on the back end and then the ability to speed the clock up for the quarterback.”

Part of Denver’s ability to send pressure has been linked to how well they’ve been able to disguise their blitz looks while at other times mixing and matching their coverage looks to give opposing quarterbacks different looks.

“I think timing is important,” Payton said regarding Denver’s disguise looks. “I think disguise is important. You guys have seen plenty of defensive backs blitz over the years and if the defensive back is a tick late at all, just count his steps to the quarterback. When the safety comes in the middle of the snap count from five yards depth, I don’t worry about him because he’s going to take 12 steps before he gets to the QB, even if he’s unblocked. The quarterback is probably either three or five steps from throwing the ball. Now, there’s a sense of urgency when there’s pressure, but the great pressure players at safety—I’m going to bring up a player that played here who is as good as I’ve seen ever and it’s [Pro Football Hall of Fame safety Brian] Dawkins. I saw him for four years in Philly and then in Dallas. If you count his steps to the quarterback, it was always five or less. In other words, he was on you now, and that was timing, disguise, anticipation. We’re playing in Detroit, the leg goes up with the silent snap count and all the studies that you need to—in other words, compared to the young guy that doesn’t really know better and he holds the look and blitzes, but he’s coming from a position where, within two-and-a-half seconds, I’m going to beat it every time. I think there’s some football savvy in there somewhere, if that makes sense at all.”

Kickoff for Saturday’s game against the Lions is set for 6:15 p.m. MT on the NFL Network.