ENGLEWOOD -- Standing on the practice field, Courtland Sutton stared into the cloudless sky. It was mid morning Monday, and his relentless positivity continued reaping rewards. Nine months after tearing his left ACL at Pittsburgh, pulling the emergency break on his season, Sutton remains determined to rebound.
He became a ghost in 2020, limited to three catches in one game after missing the opener with a sprained shoulder sustained while diving for a ball before practice. Sutton had emerged as a star in 2019, earning Pro Bowl honors with 72 catches for 1,112 yards and six touchdowns.
The Broncos have no one else like him.
He is open when he's covered. He draws more penalties than Nathan MacKinnon. He is equal parts playmaker and security blanket for an offense that remained decaffienated, failing to average at least 21 points for the fifth consecutive season.
His absence cannot be overstated. His return cannot be overblown.
"My mindset is not to just come back and be where I was when I got hurt. It's to go above and beyond that. I know that it's there," Sutton said Tuesday. "I look at at other people who have had the injury and look at the success they have had post surgery. It's there. It's all about how you attack the rehab. I don't see myself playing under the standard I set for myself already."
Like Bradley Chubb before him, Sutton became the model patient. Not only did he bring energy to his comeback, he inspired others. It helps explain why coach Vic Fangio, who throws around praise like manhole covers, is bullish on his recovery and has little doubt he will be ready for the season.
"His rehab has been fantastic thus far. He’s had a great attitude. I’ll be surprised if he’s not ready to go sooner than what the timetable might be. He’s had a great offseason, and he’s had a great effect in the training room with the other guys that are rehabbing," Fangio said. "He’s been infectious in that way. Courtland is a stud, and it won’t be long before he’s out there.”
The brace on his left knee is a reminder of the injury. Otherwise it requires squinting to notice that Sutton was ever hurt. He is moving well, running routes with few limitations. Not only did the Broncos miss Sutton on the line of scrimmage -- he creates mismatches and forces tough decisions -- the huddle lacked his leadership. The quarterback is always in charge, but, in my opinion, having Sutton would have helped numb some of Jerry Jeudy's growing pains with drops and frustrations over a lack of targets.
"For Jerry, he's very, very talented. Being able to watch him from a distance was nice, and those things I saw film that I wished I could have asked him in those moments, now I get to do that. If I see something, I can ask him, 'What made you do this?' And maybe say, 'Try this and see if it's any different,'^" Sutton said. "Just being able to do that during over the course of a week of practice, all these different periods where work together, we get to pinball ideas off each other."
A former standout at SMU, Sutton is entering his fourth season. If he delivers as expected, a new contract should follow suit. He has been considered a cornerstone player for two years, with only health standing between a longer future in Denver. And there's no reason to believe he cannot return stronger than ever based on his May workouts.
For Sutton, his mental outlook played into his physical revival. It also helped having Von Miller around during part of his rehab. He provided a sounding board and inspirational videos. It was only a few decades ago that ACL tears turned great athletes into former athletes.
Sutton found solace and hope in the journey of others, including Adrian Peterson, who is the standard for returning quickly and excelling. Eight months after shredding his ACL and MCL, Peterson returned in stride, and finished with 2,097 yards rushing in 2012.
"Having Von around and giving me those videos, it was amazing," Sutton said. "It helped me avoid the poor me, why me mindset. It’s been so much fun to be back out there. It’s definitely something I’m very grateful for."
Simmons happy to work
In April, the Broncos were the first team to issue a statement through the NFLPA announcing a boycott of offseason activities. The original reason centered around COVID-19 concerns, but it quickly became apparent this was a move to shorten the offseason. While the Broncos originally said they would not attend, they had roughly 90 percent at practice this week.
It is a result of talks with Fangio to make adjustments. Justin Simmons, one of the Broncos' player reps, says he has no regrets how it was handled and is glad to be back.
"Guys want to come and work" Simmons said, acknowledging the team needs it after yet another losing season, "but how do we work a little bit smarter."
According to NFL Network, 29 teams, including the Broncos, will open training camp July 27. This marks 47 days prior to the season opening Sunday when Denver faces the New York Giants on the road. ...
Simmons weighed in on the quarterback derby between Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock, and the Aaron Rodgers rumors. “The quarterback battle, I feel like that’s nothing but healthy competition. I’m excited. ... As for Rodgers, I don't like to play the what-if game. That's not me. But of course, we've heard about it."
The Broncos promoted Ray Jackson to vice president of player development. He is in his 19th year in the NFL and seventh with Denver.