Injured Broncos coming back stronger, hungrier for next season

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Nothing will test an athlete's resolve more than an injury, and the Denver Broncos had their share of tests last season. But by all accounts so far, those tested athletes couldn't be more ready to get back and play for a championship.

Athletic injuries suck.

There's really no other way to put it.

They can happen in an instant - usually with no chance of avoidance - and then take months of grueling rehab to get back on the field.

And as tough as it is for a team (and its fans!) to suffer through the loss of a player who is integral to the mission of winning, it's even more grueling for the athlete who has to sit out, watch his team play on and change his goals from "winning a championship this season" to "being able to straighten my leg without pain."

Nothing will test an athlete's resolve more than an injury.

And the Broncos had their share of tests last season, which is why it's exciting to see not just the free agents, not just the draft picks and not just the stars out on the field again for OTAs - but also the starters who have been waging their battles in the training room for the last few months.

Peyton Manning, who knows a thing or two about recovering from a major injury after sitting out an entire season before coming to the Broncos, made a point of talking about the injured guys coming back.

"How much work these guys have put in from a rehab standpoint...to get back on the field I know was a monumental step for a number of guys, especially a guy like Ryan Clady," Manning said. "So, good to see them out there in the huddle."

And while the offense is certainly happy to have Clady back, the defense - which lost half its starters last season - is poised for a big year with all the new acquistions plus healthy starters.

"I think any time guys have what they love taken away for a period of time, I think they understand," said defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. "They're sitting on the sideline; they're not able to play. They come back with a little extra."

"I think any time guys have what they love taken away for a period of time...they come back with a little extra." -Jack Del Rio, defensive coordinator.

That couldn't be more true for safety Rahim Moore who nearly had his leg amputated last fall because of acute lateral compartment syndrome.

Although Moore joked about being "all over the place" taking the field for the first OTA last week, he couldn't be happier that he is actually able to take the field.

"I feel like it was my first time ever playing football," Moore said, noting he put the jersey inside out, then had the wrong arm in. "I was very honored. I got a little teary eyed...but I feel really good. I'm faster and stronger than I've ever been. So today was a great day for us, just team wise, just our communication as a defense. It's been a great offseason so far."

Defensive end Derek Wolfe also has a new appreciation for playing after suffering a seizure on the team bus that was eventually linked to a spinal cord injury in the preseason. Although Wolfe wasn't coming back from an athletic injury, the time away was the same as it is for any competitor - hard.

"It was a long offseason for me," Wolfe said last week. "But that two months I took off really helped out. I feel better than I've ever felt."

In fact Wolfe learned that sometimes time off is necessary, noting that he probably came back from the preseason injury too quick and that caused him to miss the most important games at the end of the season and post-season.

"Basically I didn't take the right steps to let it heal properly," he said. "I just kept pushing it aside because we were playing great so I didn't want to miss out on anything."

"It was a long offseason for me...but I feel better than I've ever felt." -Derek Wolfe, defensive end

But he's not missing anything now, and he says he was "absolutely" emotional about being on the field again.

"You get caught up in it. You come back out here and you feel better than you've ever felt," Wolfe said. "It's kind of an emotional feeling. It's a happy emotion, it's not anything crazy. It's all football, so it's fun."

Defensive powerhouse DeMarcus Ware is very familiar with the injury rehab process as he recovers from surgery following a recurring nerve issue in his elbow. As much as he knows about sacking quarterbacks, Ware also knows a thing or two about the safe way to come back from injury.

"I'm not 100 percent, but in these types of practices, you don't have to go 100 percent," Ware said following the first week of OTAs, adding that timing that recovery for mini-camps and training camp is the goal. "That's when you start bumping it up and slowly getting your body right. You can't go full speed on the first day."

Ware, who came to the Broncos through free agency in February, praised the Broncos' medical staff for its care of an athlete's recovery.

"That's one thing the Denver Broncos do really well - they take care of their players," Ware said. "They have a lot of guys that come in here to do extra therapy, massages, whatever it is. They have a lot of well-rounded people that know exactly what they're doing to really speed up the recovery part of everything."

Taking advantage of those things and recovering smart have been the protocol for Chris Harris Jr., who tore his ACL in January's play-off game against the San Diego Chargers.

Harris said last week that he's doing just about everything except defensive back drills and aims to be ready to play Week 1.

"There's probably more stuff that I can do, but they don't want me to test that," Harris said Wednesday. "I'm running full speed, sprinting, backpedaling, turning, doing all that stuff. They have me on schedule to be ready. As long as I stick to the schedule, I should be fine."

Von Miller, who also suffered an ACL tear, is reminded by the trainers constantly about the importance of sticking to the schedule and not pushing too hard.

"I've never had an injury like this before. I'm just grinding. Whatever is on my sheet to do every day, I try to knock it out. I try to knock it out like if I was 100 percent," Miller said, adding that head trainer Steve "Greek" Antonopulos is keeping him in check. "Always when you come off of injury, you try to push and do a little bit more than what you're supposed to be doing. ‘Greek' is doing a great job of keeping me where I'm supposed to be."

*Note to all players on my favorite team - as a former competitive athlete who spent many months in training rooms, let me add my support for Greek's patient approach!

Injuries do suck, and had all of you been able to play in the Super Bowl last year, it most definitely would have been a different game. Probably 36 points different.

So take all the time you need getting better...I'm confident we're going to need you in January and February again.

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