ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It's always comforting to welcome reinforcements.
But when one of those reinforcements is a 2009 Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro who hasn't missed a snap in his career, it's downright thrilling.
"The players are excited," Head Coach Josh McDaniels said of the offensive lineman's return. "I heard some of the defensive players talking about it. Some of the guys that have never seen him play -- they're excited. I think Kyle (Orton) is excited -- the quarterback is obviously excited."
McDaniels said Clady -- who hasn't participated in a practice since injuring his knee in April -- had already started running, and he felt it was the right time to start easing the third-year lineman back into football work.
"If we have to go fast, we'll go faster; if we have to pull back, we'll pull back," Offensive Line Coach Clancy Barone said. "It's kind of a daily evaluation process with that."
Clady has started all 16 games both of his years in the league, and he is hopeful that streak can continue. The left tackle said he thinks he can make it back to the lineup in time for Week 1 in Jacksonville.
But the team isn't ready to rush the lineman into action. In his stead,
"They're going to have to continue to do a good job because Ryan isn't quite ready to go out there and play 75 plays at this point," McDaniels said. "I think we're excited about it and at the same time we're going to try to be smart and get him back to the point where we feel like he can play at his highest level. That may not be for a few more weeks."
As far as Orton is concerned, the sooner Clady is back on the field, the better. The quarterback knows exactly what he's getting out of the third-year tackle when he's on the field -- a blocker that can handle virtually all pass-rushers one-on-one.
Clady did not allow a full sack in his first 20 starts according to Stats Inc. -- the longest such streak by a tackle to begin his career since at least 1994. As a rookie, Clady was credited with allowing the fewest sacks in the NFL among all 16-game starting tackles, and was called for just three penalties on the year.
He has earned All-Pro recognition from the Associated Press during each of his first two seasons, and became just the 11th tackle in the league earn a trip to the Pro Bowl by his second season -- he was voted a starter.
"I think Ryan has good footwork, he has obviously long arms, he's hard to rush through and he knows how to play the game against different styles of rushers," McDaniels said. "I think that's really been key to his success as a pass protector. We're very fortunate that he's where he's at and hopefully he can return to that form shortly."
Clady himself is confident in his recovery. Thanking Head Athletic Trainer Steve "Greek" Antonopulos and the rest of the training staff, Clady said he feels good after months of rehabbing and doing everything he could to stay focused on football.
"I'm just trying to get back to full speed ... and just (trying) to continue to improve," he said. "With any starter in the NFL, you've got to just try to get back as soon as possible and try to play and make the team better."
Clady donned an orange jersey at practice Wednesday, designating players who are recovering from injuries. The fact that the lineman returned to the field so quickly left an impression on his teammates.
"He's had quite the busy offseason," Orton said. "He's spent a lot of time with Greek and (Strength and Conditioning Coach Rich) Tuten and all those guys, but he's worked hard to get himself back into shape."
Because he had to ease off the leg work in the weight room while recovering from his injury, Clady said his upper-body strength benefitted. Now he is excited to put that strength to work back on the football field.
"It's a step back I took," Clady said of his injury. "But I will move forward and try to improve."