ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Seventeen days after signing with the Broncos, safety Jim Leonhard finally hit the practice field with his teammates.
"It's been a long time," Leonhard said. "A lot of hours of rehab since I've been on this field. It really felt great to get back out there."
The second safety to return to the practice field in the past two days -- joining Quinton Carter -- Leonhard participated in individual drills, but was held out of team portions of the session.
"I just got my feet wet a little bit," he said.
It was Leonhard's first practice since suffering a knee injury in December, which caused him to end the 2011 season on injured reserve.
Leonhard said it was hard to stay patient for his eight months of recovery after surgery, but now that his knee is "absolutely" pain-free and "feels better than it did before (he) hurt it," he's hoping the wait will pay off.
"It's going to be a little touch-and-go right now, just trying to get my legs back under me," he said. "These guys have been in training camp for three weeks now and I've missed an entire offseason coming off of a surgery. It's going to take a little time to get back to 100 percent and feel totally comfortable with everything, but I liked what I felt today and I think it's going to continue to go up from here."
As for when he will be able to play at full-speed, Leonhard said he will put his trust in Head Athletic Trainer Steve Antonopulos and his staff to make the decision. In the meantime, he has been frustrated without a chance to prove himself to the coaching staff.
But Head Coach John Fox said that in addition to a workout prior to Leonhard's signing, the safety's game tape does plenty of the proving for him.
In seven seasons with the New York Jets, Baltimore Ravens and Buffalo Bills, Leonhard has accumulated 309 tackles, six interceptions, 24 passes defensed, two forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries, according to press box totals. He has also fielded 82 punts and returned 12 kickoffs in his career.
"There's a lot of evidence on tape of what he can do," Fox said. "It was just a matter of him having a little time to heal, and we gave him that time."
Now, Leonhard is free to join a defense that was a big part of why he came to Denver in the first place.
"I think there's a lot of youth and a lot of talent," Leonhard said. "We can be a great defense. We really can. That's what gets me excited. Sitting on the side and seeing guys make plays, that's the frustrating part. But you're excited to get back out there and do it with them. I think we're going to be a great defense, and I just want to have my own little role in that, whatever it is."