ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Being a rookie in the NFL is hard. Missing the first six weeks of a season is also hard.
Being a rookie and missing the first six weeks of an NFL season is nearly a death spell to any player's first year in the league.
The Denver Broncos hope to defy the odds with their talented rookie tight end Jake Butt, who will participate in his first practice with his professional club on Monday, Oct. 16.
“Jake Butt is doing great. He’s going to practice Monday, along with Shane Ray,” Broncos’ head coach Vance Joseph said on Monday as the team returned from their bye week. “We are excited about those two guys coming back on Monday to practice.”
Butt, Denver’s fifth-round pick in the 2017 draft, tore his ACL in his final collegiate game with Michigan on Dec. 30, 2016, plummeting his draft stock and putting his first season in the NFL into question.
Since Butt didn’t participate in any on-field workouts after being drafted, he was placed on the Non-Football Injury list (NFI) list to start the season, meaning he had to sit out at least the first six weeks.
However, after nine grueling months of recovery, Butt will be cleared to practice on the first possible day he’s eligible: the day after Denver’s Week 6 game. As a self-diagnosed “quick healer”—in college he played in a game six months after tearing his ACL the first time—Butt says he feels good, and while he wouldn’t put a timetable on when he will play in a game, he said, “the sooner I can help this team the better.”
The reason why Butt has a chance to defy the odds and have an impact on the offense this year is twofold. First, while Butt hasn’t been able to officially practice with the team, he’s been doing everything possible on the side to make up for the missed practices. Nearly every day, if not every day, after the team’s practice ends, Butt is on the field with a trainer, running routes, catching passes and taking as many mental reps as possible.
“I feel really good about the playbook. I’ve been hitting it just as if I were playing. I still watch film with the guys,” he said with intensity when describing his preparation over the past few months. “I feel good running routes. I feel really good. I feel good blocking. Everything that we’ve been doing I feel really good about.”
Butt’s practice outside of practice gets so detailed, he made Dustin, the Broncos’ trainer he works with, learn the team’s snap count, coverages and has Dustin “slingin’ that bad boy” all around the field.
The second reason why Butt has a chance to defy the odds is the confidence the coaching and training staff has in him. Typically, when a player is recovering from an injury, he has to stay in Denver and continue rehab during the team’s bye week. However, the Broncos let Jake take the break they gave to every other player.
“They gave me the week off after Wednesday. They let me ride because they know it’s going to be a grind these next few weeks,” he explained with excitement. “Once I get cleared, we are coming down a 12 game stretch and then hopefully the playoffs.”
From the day Butt first practices, the Broncos will have 21 days to either activate him to the 53-man roster or designate him to the NFI again, which would end his season. Right now, the biggest question isn’t if Butt will be activated to the 53-man roster, it’s when.
“I’ve been doing my best to make sure I’m prepared,” he said firmly. “[Tight ends] Coach Geep [Chryst] just says we’re going to—like a parachuter coming in, you just want to hit the ground running.”
Jake Butt’s rookie season was put into question before it even started. On Monday, he’ll officially start his rookie campaign on the field.
“The hardest part for me has been—I want to make this team. I don’t want to be handed a spot. I want to earn this and make this team,” Butt said with determination in his eyes. “I want to feel like I’m contributing to the team and helping this team win. It’s been hard doing that from a distance a little bit behind the scenes. I’m excited to try to earn my fellow teammates trust in practice and earn the coaches trust.”