DENVER (Nov. 21, 2006) -- Nick Ferguson usually bounded through the locker room, knocking objects -- namely food -- out of teammates' hands, cracking jokes and making of fun of whoever stood in front of him.
The locker room seemed quieter Tuesday without the Denver Broncos strong safety. Ferguson had season-ending surgery to repair a torn medial meniscus in his left knee.
"He was really hoping he could play with it, but the doctors said there's no way," coach Mike Shanahan said after practice. "It was almost completely torn."
"It's depressing," cornerback Domonique Foxwort h said. "He's been playing really well for us, so it's really disappointing. He finished the game (on a hurt knee). The fact he finished says a lot. We're all proud of him and hope to get him back for next season."
"He's one of those vocal leaders," fullback Kyle Johnson said. "We love having him around."
Said Foxworth: "It's going to be a huge loss for this team."
Ferguson, a seventh-year pro, was injured on his first-quarter interception in Denver's 35-27 loss to San Diego on Sunday night.
However, he remained in the game.
"With his toughness, he still played," Shanahan said as he shook his head in appreciation.
Shanahan estimated the recovery time at three months.
Ferguson, who underwent an MRI on Monday, didn't immediately return a phone call to The Associated Press. His agent, John Reale, declined to discuss his client's injury.
"You're talking about a bulldog now," defensive coordinator Larry Coyer said of Ferguson. "We're very sorry about Nick. It hurts because he's a really great guy. He brought toughness and character to the team."
Ferguson has started all 10 games this season and has 36 tackles and one interception. He was knocked out of the Pittsburgh game in the second quarter with a concussion.
It's likely that second-year backup Curome Cox would start in Ferguson's absence. The Broncos are already down a defensive back after safety Sam Brandon tore up his right knee Nov. 5 at Pittsburgh.
Cox replaced Brandon in the Steelers game and had an interception and a fumble recovery. He played two series for Ferguson against San Diego.
"We're prepared for situations like this," Cox said. "It's an opportunity to step up and help the team. I know he'll be back."
Coyer has confidence in Cox.
"We're blessed to have depth," Coyer said. "He's performed well for us. We don't have any reservations."