ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Leave. Walk away. Go anywhere but here.
Those thoughts invaded Jake Butt's mind over the last few years. Football provided every reason to break up. Butt has torn his ACL three times, and last year as he finally gained traction, he required a meniscus repair. Butt is no longer the sleeper pick, the unearthed gem late in the draft with endless potential.
He enters training camp clawing for a roster spot in a crowded tight end room.
Butt remains as impressive a young man you'll meet. He will be successful whether he wears a helmet or not. So I asked him after Wednesday's practice, defined by a huge rebound by the offense, why continue playing football?
"That's a good question," said Butt, as he placed his chin in his hand. "There were a lot of days I wanted to quit. I questioned myself. My friends, my support group kept me going and just some craziness. I have been raised that you can't quit. I go back to that. And I am really happy I stuck with it. I feel like I can play in this league."
After five practices, Butt has reason to believe. He looks healthier than this time a year ago, and is quietly making plays. Wednesday featured a drop, but he delivered several tough catches Sunday. His path to the roster is cobbled with potholes. Noah Fant, Nick Vannett and Albert Okwuegbunam remain locks to make the team. That leaves Butt battling with Troy Fumagalli, who had a terrific touchdown catch over Isaac Yiadom on Wednesday, for likely one jersey.
Butt is self-aware. He knows the challenge after posting eight catches for 85 yards in his career. But he has embraced the journey over the results, leading to inspiring mental toughness.
"I have listened and learned. And I think it's something everyone can learn. Tough days are going to come. You can't quit," Butt said. "You gotta keep showing up."
The former Michigan star explained that a book -- "Chop Wood, Carry Water" -- given to him by Broncos strength and conditioning coach Loren Landow helped inspire him. It focuses on narrowly defining goals, making incremental improvement, enjoying the process.
For Butt, that's all he had the past two years, enveloped by the loneliness of rehab that leaves a player feeling untethered from his teammates .
"That's one of the hardest parts that no one really talks about," Butt said. "You have to keep fighting through it."
It's too early to predict if Butt will land on the 53-man roster. However, his comeback has already reached a milestone, creating a realistic chance of him playing somewhere this fall.
"There's no one in this locker room that doesn't want to see Jake (Butt) succeed," Broncos quarterback Drew Lock said. "He has worked so hard to get back."
Following the offense's woeful performance Tuesday, Courtland Sutton answered with an exclamation point Wednesday. After an early drop on a pass over the middle, the Pro Bowler put on a clinic at Bryce Callahan's expense. He caught two touchdowns, including a long pass that featured Kareem Jackson and Callahan colliding into each other. After the play, Phillip Lindsay and Jackson jawed over the play, with the gist that they can't cover Sutton. It was a fantastic, spirited exchange. ...
The third cornerback spot remains up for grabs. It is important because Callahan profiles better in the slot than outside. De'Vante Bausby's style and aggressiveness has him in the mix. He's not afraid to get physical and make plays. Isaac Yiadom is pushing for the spot, but continues to give a huge cushion in coverage. He doesn't get beat deep much, but gives up yards underneath. ...
Center Lloyd Cushenberry received first-team reps Wednesday. He is making progress and showing the type of football IQ that suggests he could win the job. ...
Phillip Lindsay provided energy with his early runs. And Melvin Gordon continues to excel in the passing game on short and wheel routes. ...
Tight end Nick Vannett is in the concussion protocol after a hard hit on Tuesday, and Noah Fant missed practice with an illness unrelated to COVID-19. Davontae Harris is dealing with a bruised knee and Bradley Chubb (knee) received a planned day off as he recovers from ACL surgery.