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Broncos Coach Set t o Return

Englewood, Colo. (ap) — Jack Del Rio had a big Thanksgiving Day surprise for his team.

John Fox joined the players and coaches for their post-practice huddle on the football field Thursday. Amid hails, hugs and handshakes, he told them how thankful he was for his health, their hard work and his good friend Del Rio for running things while he was recovering from open-heart surgery.

“I believe there couldn’t have been a better message on a better day,” safety David Bruton said.

Of course, Fox also took the opportunity to do some coaching, imploring his players to focus on beating Kansas City this weekend so that when he officially returns to work Monday, he’ll have a first-place team awaiting him.

It hasn’t been determined whether Fox will coach from the sideline or the booth for his first game back, when the Broncos host the Tennessee Titans on Dec. 8. The team issued a statement Thursday saying that “while no formal restrictions will be placed on his workload upon his return, he will continue to be monitored by our medical staff as his well-being remains our No. 1 priority.”

It’s been less than a month since Fox had his heart operation.

Team owner Pat Bowlen sent his private jet to Charlotte, N.C., on Wednesday to bring Fox and his wife, Robin, back to Denver. Fox had been recuperating at his offseason home after aortic valve replacement surgery Nov. 4.

Del Rio said he invited Fox to drop by the office Thanksgiving morning so that the entire team wouldn’t have to show up at the Fox house for turkey dinner.

“It was great to see (him) and very fitting on a day like today when we’re all kind of taking a pause and taking a break and giving thanks,” Del Rio said.

Fox will stay back in Denver when the Broncos visit Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday for an AFC West showdown between 9-2 teams that could go a long way in determining playoff positioning.

Del Rio has gone 2-1 in Fox’s absence.

Fox has actually been back coaching for a while.

He and Del Rio talk every day, and he even Skyped his players during a team meeting last week. He was breaking down plays upon his release from the hospital, and on Wednesday quarterback Peyton Manning said they’ve communicated “a healthy amount” over the last three weeks.

His return was first reported by Fox Sports.

About a week after the surgery, Fox said on a conference call with reporters that he was born with a bicuspid aortic valve, one that has only two leaflets instead of the usual three. The aortic valve regulates blood flow from the heart into the aorta, the major blood vessel that brings blood into the body.

He said it was discovered in 1997 when a murmur showed up in a physical while he was the Giants defensive coordinator. He was told earlier this year that surgery was necessary, but he had hoped to delay the operation until after the Super Bowl.

That changed when he almost passed out Nov. 2 while golfing in Charlotte, two days after he’d visited his cardiologist in Raleigh. Less than 48 hours later, he had surgery, and he was released from the hospital four days after that.

He said the typical hospital stay for such surgeries is five to seven days. He also noted that he was “very, very healthy,” saying his heart condition was more of a birth defect than the result of any poor lifestyle choices or too much stress. He pledged then get back to work by season’s end.

Tight end Jacob Tamme called it a “pretty cool Thanksgiving treat to have him back and see how happy he was to be back.”

“I mean, it’s killing him (to be away),” Tamme said. “He loves it, man. He loves being around this group and we love having him here. So it was pretty awesome.”

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

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Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton