ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Albert Okwuegbunam was just getting started when his rookie season ended suddenly.
He'd caught nine passes for 105 yards in his first two games and proved to be a very difficult physical matchup for defensive backs before suffering a torn ACL in his fourth game.
The injury halted him completely. Physically, it forced him to start a lengthy rehab process that has lasted much of the last 10 months. And mentally, he could only go so far in his understanding of the offense without being actually on the field and getting those reps.
However, after that recovery process, Okwuegbunam now says his knee is "100 percent" during training camp, and he's able to get back to where he left off.
"Honestly, when I'm out there running around, I don't even think about my knee," Okwuegbunam said Friday. "So it's just been kind of about knocking the dust off, getting out there and playing football again. Feeling that competitiveness and just getting back in the swing of things, but it's going really good."
That has been fairly apparent, as spectators could see during Friday's practice when he used his size and strength to haul in a pass in spite of tight coverage from cornerback Kyle Fuller for a gain of maybe 15 yards.
"The silver lining from last season was just the confidence instilled in me," Okwuegbunam said, "just being able to go out there and make plays against the best of the best, just to know that I'm a playmaker, and that I can be a force in this league. So, carrying that into this next season I felt that was definitely the silver lining from the few games I did play last year."
With Okwuegbunam and Noah Fant, the Broncos have a unique pair of tight ends on their roster with tremendous speed and size that can put opposing defenses in uncomfortable positions. Denver wasn't able to see that much last year before Okwuegbunam's injury, but Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur could utilize that pairing to the offense's benefit in 2021.
"It's huge," Okwuegbunam said. "We can put a lot of strain on the defense just with our athleticism and our ability to stretch the field, create mismatches in size, so it'll be interesting to see what Coach 'Shurm' does with us and the mismatches he'll be able to create."
TIPPING FROM THE TRENCHES
While Jerry Jeudy turns in his almost daily highlight in his second training camp, another 2020 draft pick may have come up with the most impressive play on Friday.
Late in practice during a team period, defensive lineman McTelvin Agim burst through the line, shrugging off any resistance to force immediate pressure on Drew Lock despite a shotgun snap. Though Lock got the pass off, Agim jumped and brought his arms up to deflect the ball, which was then reeled in by Josh Watson for an interception.
"He's having a great camp," DeShawn Williams said after practice. "A lot of people think rookie linemen, defensive linemen, [are] supposed to come in and make an impact. It's not that easy. You're going against grown men. The speed changes, the strength changes, and he's got that year under his belt and now you see everybody's been bringing his name up. Man, he's out there having a great camp, and I can't wait to see him when we go against Minnesota to put it all together. He bust his tail this offseason, and it's showing."
With Mike Purcell recovering from an ankle injury, the defensive line has relied on its depth and youth for much of camp. Williams, who started 11 games in Purcell's stead in 2020, has gotten an increased workload with the first-team defense again as Purcell heals, but he's keeping the same mindset regardless of who lines up next to him.
"How we treat it, it doesn't really matter about the ones and twos and threes because everybody [is] getting equal reps," Williams said. "We don't want to see one of our brothers go down because we know how hard Mike came back to be in OTAs and now to see him go down, but he just tells me every day [to] make it count."
… Jeudy opened up the first team period with an eye-popping catch deep down the left sideline over the outstretched arms of a leaping Bryce Callahan. Though Jeudy later suffered his first drop of camp, he still had an impressive day, with that long catch as the clear highlight.
Fangio again cited Jeudy's resilience from his struggles late in the 2020 season as a reason for why the second-year receiver has had such an excellent start to training camp.
"He's carried that over to the offseason," Fangio said. "Now you add in the intangibles, the things you can't quantify — having an offseason, having a second year in the same system, going through OTAs and minicamp, all the meetings he's been through, throwing with guys, being able to do things in person. You put that in there with his natural maturation level and the one he experienced between Week  and  last year, and this what you get."
… In what's become almost a regular occurrence during this camp, Trinity Benson came up with two more big catches for more than first-down yardage on Friday. Fangio said Benson's experience as a practice squad member for the 2019 and 2020 seasons has helped produce this run of success.
"All that work is paying off," Fangio said. "He's in the hunt. Trinity always could run. Now, he's a better receiver [and is] polished on knowing what to do and how to do it. He's in the hunt with all those guys."
… Fifth-round pick Caden Sterns secured his second interception of camp on a pass on Friday, tracking a deep ball that sailed just a bit beyond DeVontres Dukes on a throw down the right sideline.
"He's doing well," Fangio said. "He's picked up the defense extremely well. He's been able to advance it a lot quicker than your average rookie can at his position. I've been very pleased with the way he's progressed in this camp and learned everything. One of the bigger, final tests for him — and we won't know until we start playing games — is he has to be able to tackle. If he does a good job of tackling and he's a reliable tackler, then I think we have a good player."
Check out our photos capturing all the fun and hard work from Day 8 of #BroncosCamp.