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Broncos' Jackson returns to practice following second suspension

Kareem Jackson Denver Broncos Kareem Jackson - Getty Images

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Denver Broncos safety Kareem Jackson, who has forfeited nearly $1 million in fines and paychecks over a series of over-the-top tackles this season, returned to practice Wednesday after completing his second suspension.

After missing six of the Broncos' last seven games, Jackson is eligible to return Sunday night when Denver (7-7) hosts the New England Patriots (3-11), although the Broncos have a roster exemption through Monday and could choose to sit him out this weekend.

His role is also uncertain because fourth-year safety PJ Locke has played well in Jackson’s absence opposite Justin Simmons. Jackson could be used on early downs or in certain sub packages with Locke maintaining most of the snaps.

“It's been four weeks,” coach Sean Payton said. “All those things are possibilities. It’s still something that we’re kind of going through.”

Last time he returned from a suspension, Jackson was reinserted into the starting lineup right away, but his very first tackle resulted in another suspension and this time, the league declined to cut his four-game punishment in half.

As a converted cornerback, Jackson’s 5-foot-10, 183-pound frame puts him on the smaller size for NFL safeties, something he’s compensated for with his hard-hitting style.

Jackson was granted an audience with Commissioner Roger Goodell last month as he sought advice on how to quit running afoul of the league's unnecessary roughness rules where hits that were once celebrated are now scorned.

Jackson said, however, that he only came away from that meeting with more questions.

“I was told that I’m responsible for the offensive guys’ protection,” Jackson said at his Christmas charity event this month. “So, I’m not really sure how I protect myself, make plays and protect them, as well. ... At the end of the day, I’m going to go out and I’ll play the game as I have since 2010."

That's worrisome for Broncos fans pining for an end to Denver's eight-year playoff drought because Jackson said much the same thing after his first suspension and he got dinged again for his very first tackle upon his return.

Jackson has surrendered $837,000 in lost paychecks to go with $89,670 in fines for unsafe hits this season. He said his unflagged hit on Chiefs running back Isiah Pacheco in Week 6 that drew a $43,709 fine was erased entirely by the league — but not before Goodell used it as an example of Jackson’s over-the-top tackles during their Nov. 30 meeting in New York.

Jackson said Goodell asked him why would he hit Pacheco like he did when the running back was going down and Jackson explained he had already committed to going in low and that as elite as NFL athletes are, it’s impossible for any human to change his trajectory in that split-second and avoid the contact when the ball carrier ducks at the last moment.

Jackson went to the trainer's room after Wednesday's practice and wasn't available during the team's open locker room period.

“It's great having him back in the building and having him around,” Simmons said of the Broncos' defensive tone-setter. “Man, it helps having him back.”

Quarterback Russell Wilson met with the media on Wednesday for the first time since Payton chewed him out on the sideline during the Broncos' 42-17 loss at Detroit.

Asked if he had spoken with his head coach about the blowup, which came after the Broncos had first-and-goal but failed to score, Wilson said: “Yeah, we definitely have talked about the game plan this week. We're excited to play football.”

Asked what he felt about the story getting so much buzz on social media, Wilson again demurred.

“I don't really try to pay attention to it — I was there,” Wilson said. “I think we both wanted to score a touchdown there. ... That's really where all the frustration was is that we didn't get to make it 28-14 there."

At any rate, Wilson said the focus isn't on last week but on beating the Patriots on Sunday night and keeping the Broncos' playoff hopes alive.

“When we were 1-5, everybody said we were out of it,” Wilson said. “We're sitting here at 7-7 and some people think we're out of it. I don't believe so. We've got some good football to play.”

NOTES: Payton said he expects OLB Nik Bonitto to return from a sprained MCL although it's questionable for this game. ... TE Greg Dulcich (hamstring, foot) sat out Wednesday along with Bonitto and RB Samaje Perine (rest day).