ENGLEWOOD — Jake Butt is saying the words that every Broncos fan wants to hear after back-to-back losing seasons.
“I think everybody knows that we need to step it up,” Butt said. “What’s been going on these last couple years has not been acceptable and it’s not the Broncos brand of football.”
Denver’s 2017 fifth-round NFL draft pick wants nothing more than to bolster that cause with dynamic tight end play that earned Butt the Mackey Award at Michigan. One big problem? His ability to stay off crutches.
Butt has torn his ACL thrice since 2014: His sophomore season at Michigan, in the Citrus Bowl as a senior, and another time last September with the Broncos during a Week 4 walk-through practice. He finished the year with eight catches for 85 yards over three starts.
Sunday, Butt served as a panel judge for the final cuts of Broncos cheerleading tryouts and gave an update on his health.
“I can’t go (practice), but I’m getting closer,” Butt said. “I’m about five months out right now. But rehab is going really well. I’m feeling great and I know the trainers are feeling good about where I’m at.”
There is no clear answer for how Butt will fit in Denver’s tight ends group upon his return. The Broncos re-signed Jeff Heuerman on a two-year deal, let Matt LaCosse go in free agency to New England and await the debut of 2018 fifth-round pick Troy Fumagalli (sports hernia). It’s also likely Denver selects a tight end in the upcoming draft with a wealth of quality options.
What motivates Butt is an opportunity to catch passes from new starting quarterback Joe Flacco, whose connection with former Ravens’ tight end Dennis Pitta (2010-16) resulted in 224 receptions for 2,098 yards and 13 touchdowns. The Broncos have not featured similar tight end production since Julius Thomas (2011-’14).
“The tight end room is really excited about having Joe,” Butt said. “There is going to be some opportunity for us.”
It’s easy to doubt Butt’s ability to bounce back from a third torn ACL equally as an effective blocker or receiver. But his only focus remains on the day-to-day grind he has endured twice before. He’s on track for an August return to the practice field.
“Every (ACL tear) is different,” Butt said. “This time, it’s been a pretty smooth recovery. I want to keep that going.”
The long-awaited return of another injured Broncos tight end is almost here. Fumagalli, who suffered through a sports hernia since he was drafted from Wisconsin last April, said he has been cleared to practice starting April 2.
“I’m really excited about it,” Fumagalli said. “I haven’t played in forever. It will be a blast to get back out there playing football again and putting the past behind me. I’m looking forward to it.”
Fumagalli hauled in 135 catches for 1,627 yards and seven touchdowns over four college seasons.