ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Courtland Sutton isn't concerned with getting back to his 2019 level of play.
He isn't looking to equal his 72 catches, 1,124 yards or six touchdowns from his second pro season.
As Sutton prepares to return from a 2020 ACL injury, he wants to be better.
"The way I've been attacking rehab, my mindset is to be able to come back and not be where I was when I got hurt," Sutton said Tuesday. "It's to be able to go above and beyond that. I know that it's there. I look at a list of other people who have had a similar injury and I look at the success that they've had post-surgery. It's there. It's all about how you attack the rehab and how your mindset is when you go into the rehab, the practices and the games. Just taking everything as, how can I get better in this situation? I don't see myself coming back and playing anything under the standard I've set for myself already."
That standard was impressive in 2019, as Sutton identified himself as one of the league's best receivers in just his second season in the NFL. The 2018 second-round pick made a living that year making acrobatic catches and snagging 50-50 balls out of the air.
In 2021, Sutton doesn't expect to lose any of the explosive athleticism that made him so difficult for cornerbacks to contain.
"I don't see myself coming back and having any setbacks, any hiccups or anything that I'll say, 'I can't do that in my game anymore,'" Sutton said. "I've been working my butt off in rehab and really attacking it so I can come back and not just be at the standard that I was before I got hurt. I'm trying to exceed that even more so. I don't see myself coming back and losing any of those things that I was able to do. If anything, we're going to be adding to that."
Sutton still has a few more steps before he is back to hauling passes in over defenders, but he has taken key steps in recent weeks as he's returned to the field. Head Coach Vic Fangio said Monday that Sutton didn't run routes during 7-on-7 drills, but Sutton has done individual work as OTAs begin.
"He's not doing everything," Fangio said. "I don't think he ran routes today in the 'skelly' periods. We're kind of easing him in. Some days he will and some days he won't. His rehab has been fantastic thus far. He's had a great attitude. I'll be surprised if he's not ready to go sooner than what the timetable might be. He's had a great offseason and he's had a great effect in the training room with the other guys that are rehabbing. He's been infectious in that way.
"Courtland is a stud, and it won't be long before he's out there."
And though he's not catching touchdowns quite yet, Sutton has appreciated being back on the field after eight months of rehab and several more still to go.
"It was a blessing, man," Sutton said of being back on the field. "For myself, I'm just grateful for the chance to be able to go back out there. I hear all the stories about how ACLs used to be career ending type of injuries. Then with technology, getting the surgery, seeing the progress day-to-day and month-to-month, seeing all these different things and being able to progress through. Being able to be out on the grass, doing individuals with the guys, being able to run routes with the guys and being able to be out there and just talk to them, coach them up and ask them, 'What made you do this here?' Just being able to be out there and be hands on with the dudes has been so much fun.
"It's definitely something that I'm very grateful for, for sure."
YEAR 2 JUMP
Sutton's impressive Year 2 leap came after a rookie season in which he caught 42 passes for 704 yards and four touchdowns. That year wasn't without its challenges, as he was forced into the No. 1 receiver role late in the year after Demaryius Thomas was traded and Emmanuel Sanders suffered a season-ending injury.
With the added responsibility, Sutton averaged 3.5 catches over the final four weeks of the year and topped the 45 yard mark just once.
Sutton's near-instant success the following season, though, could provide a lesson for Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler as they each try to make their own strides in their second seasons.
"I would say the biggest thing for me that clicked was understanding defenses and understanding concepts of the offense and why we're doing things," Sutton said. "Why do I need to be here at this time? What read am I on this play? Understanding how defenses are going to move, understanding how fast defenses are going to play, understanding what you're going to get on third-and-long, understanding what kind of defense you're going to get in two-minute.
"All these different things are things that you don't really get to until the bullets are flying in game-time reps. Those dudes have been able to get all those reps throughout the season and it's going to help them even more to book it in their mind for this upcoming season. Now, when they see something that's similar, they'll say, 'Oh, I remember this. This is how I can move differently to be able to get open, or this is how I can do this differently.' I think being able to have that year underneath you definitely helps with just the understanding of how the game flows."
Both Jeudy and Hamler were impressive in stretches in 2020. If they take a similar leap to Sutton, this Broncos offense could be downright scary to contain.
LOOKING UP TO SIMMONS
When safeties Caden Sterns and Jamar Johnson were drafted in the fifth round of the 2021 NFL Draft, both players said they admired All-Pro safety Justin Simmons.
Simmons, who was a third-round pick in 2016, earned his stripes over the past several seasons to make a name for himself as one of the top safeties in the game. And while Sterns and Johnson have much to prove before they reach Simmons' stature, the veteran said he's been impressed with the young duo.
"Just from the first couple days of practice, those guys have great ball skills," Simmons said. "That's something that just pops out. … They have great ball skills and are really quick learners. It's not always easy to take full command of a defense in Day 1. They're asked to get in there and make adjustments. There are definitely nuances in Vic's defense. They're quick learners, and it's really fun just being able to kind of work through things together. Not necessarily like a hierarchy, but let's work through this together because even in coaching up and seeing a play that I might see a little bit different than they do, it helps me broaden my own horizon. It helps me learn the playbook a little bit more. I know it's only been two days at least on the field, but we've been meeting for a while. It's been a lot of fun getting to know those guys."