ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Just less than a year ago, an undrafted free agent running back was turning heads at the Broncos training camp.
But after turning his knee during practice, Mario Fannin was placed on injured reserve on Aug. 7, 2011, sidelining him for the rest of the year.
During this year's training camp at the Dove Valley facilities, Fannin knows he's going to have to prove himself all over again. But despite losing the ground that he had picked up with last year's impressive offseason, he believes the injury - all that resulted from it - will end up helping him this August.
"It's a blessing in disguise," Fannin said. "I was able to learn more and be able to come into camp knowing a little bit more than I did last year. I feel like I'm a little bit more knowledgeable of the game and a little more knowledgeable of the plays and the blitz pickups and things of that nature."
After watching all of last year, his level of understanding is greater. Now that he's back on the field, he's looking to put the knee injury, and opposing defenders, completely behind him.
"Every day when I go out there, it gets a little bit better, being able to cut better on it," said the Auburn University product. "Getting past the mental part of it, knowing I've hurt it and getting over that, I feel like I'm making a big step right now and I'm trying to keep going forward."
"(It's about) being able to overcome the injury and fight back to show the coaches I can do the job I was doing before," he continued.
Reaching that point - the end of the recovery process and a new beginning to his career - wasn't easy for Fannin. To stay on track, he took advice from another Broncos running back who battled through a very similar injury earlier in his career.
"(Running Backs) Coach (Eric Studesville) told me to talk to Willis (McGahee) about the injury," Fannin said. "He's been very helpful. He's a guy who tells it like it is. Sometimes when I was out there trying to run even when I was kind of sore, he'd say, 'If it's sore, don't run on it. Just sit down and get some mental reps.' I value that in him, being able to not just be a teammate but be a friend."
Fannin also received advice from his friend Ben Tate, a Houston Texans running back who missed all of 2010 with a knee injury but came back strong in 2011.
"They told me to stay mentally focused to be able to overcome this injury," he said. "That's the biggest thing."
Now that the pads are back on, Fannin finds himself in an open competition. There are currently seven running backs on the roster, and Studesville said that "every one of them is going to get an opportunity to show what they can do."
But in 2011, Denver kept only three running backs on the active roster throughout the majority of the regular season.
To separate himself, Fannin will try to showcase a skill that put him atop the record books at Auburn. He is the school's all-time leader in both receptions and receiving yards by a running back - and averaged 36.7 yards on his nine touchdown catches.
"That's definitely something I want to show the coaches I can do," Fannin said. "(My ability as a receiver) is something I think the coaches value in me. Not many backs have good hands. God has blessed me to have that skill. I think it'll help me out tremendously."
As camp progresses, Fannin will look to stand out wherever he can, whether that's special teams, blitz pickup or third-down situations. Fannin proved to be valuable in all of those aspects for the 2010 BCS National Champion Auburn Tigers.
Now, a player who made an impression as an undrafted rookie hopes to show he can be just as valuable to the Denver Broncos.
"I want to show them more than what I showed them before I got hurt," he said.