ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Nearly two weeks of rest was exactly what Jeff Heuerman needed to show why he is a significant part of the plans at tight end.
Knee soreness sidelined him through Saturday's preseason loss to the Vikings, but in the last two days of practice, he showed no ill effects from the layoff.
During Monday's practice, Heuerman made one of the best plays of the day, leaping for a back-of-the-end-zone touchdown grab during a red-zone period.
He continued that momentum Tuesday, catching a 15-yard pass from Case Keenum down the middle during a seven-on-seven period and two others during team periods, including a 26-yard reception down the right side of the field during a move-the-ball period that got the offense into the red zone.
"He was the fastest guy we had on the field today, running away from safeties and [line]backers and even corners," Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave said.
When Heuerman was told of Musgrave's comment, he smiled.
"Really? Well, I mean, fresh legs, I guess," he said, laughing.
"I think this is probably as athletic as I've felt, as fast as I've felt," he continued. "A lot of that is Loren Landow, our strength coach. Amazing. And then this offense -- it allows tight ends to do a lot of stuff and be real versatile. I feel like I fit really well in this offense, so, yeah, I'm excited."
Despite missing most of training camp, Heuerman is listed as the No. 1 tight end on the depth chart, one spot ahead of 2017 draft pick Jake Butt. But the two of them are complementary parts who should both see extensive work.
"They’re different. As having a No. 1 tight end for our offense, not that important, but having a couple guys who can do different skill sets is more important for us. It’s no different than having more than one [running] back," Head Coach Vance Joseph said.
"Heuerman is a bigger man, he’s more of an in-line blocker for us, and Butt is a pass-catcher, a route-runner, a guy who can play in space versus ‘backers and win. They’re different. So, who’s [No.] 1? It depends what play we call."
Heuerman wants to prove he deserves that call as often as possible. His health has been a defining aspect of his career, from the torn ACL he suffered in 2015 rookie minicamp to a hamstring issue the following year and now to the recent soreness in the knee that he injured three years ago. Now his health could determine the extent of his role.
"When he’s healthy -- we’ve just got to get him healthy of course -- he’s got a lot of skills," Musgrave said. “We saw those when we played the Colts last year and out here in practice.
"If we can get his knee right, he’s going to really be a weapon for us.”
... One day after the Broncos promoted quarterback Chad Kelly to the No. 2 spot on the depth chart behind Case Keenum, he faced a trial by fire, working one period against the first-team defense after the No. 1 offense went against the second-team defense -- even though that wasn't exactly the plan.
“It was by accident," Head Coach Vance Joseph said. "Honestly, it was. It was by accident. I think [Linebackers Coach] Reggie [Herring] called 2s for his guys, [Defensive Line Coach Bill] Kollar heard 2s so he put his 2s out there, and [Defensive Coordinator] Joe [Woods] was like, 'Well, 2s.'"
Nevertheless, it was an illuminating moment for Kelly, who found himself under siege as pressure poured in from Von Miller and Derek Wolfe on the first two plays, followed by Bradley Chubb and Chris Harris Jr. on one snap and Todd Davis on the next.
Kelly didn't flinch. Facing pressure again on a second-and-10, he fired a pass to Courtland Sutton down the right sideline that the rookie receiver adjusted to for a 36-yard gain that moved the offense into the red zone. A 7-yard run by Phillip Lindsay one snap later brought the drive to a conclusion.
... Kelly found more success later during a red-zone period, decisively stepping up out of pressure to run for a 15-yard touchdown on a play that resembled his 17-yard, third-and-5 scramble early in the fourth quarter last Saturday.
... In the same period, Keenum led the No. 2 offense 48 yards to the 2-yard line. A majority of the yardage came on Heuerman's 26-yard catch, setting up three consecutive runs that pushed the offense into second-and-goal at the 2.
... In the duel of third units, Paxton Lynch drove the offense inside the 10-yard line before the march as called off. A 31-yard pass to Tim Patrick down the left sideline provided most of the yardage.
... Denver's pass rush came up with multiple plays that could have been sacks. During the first team period, Miller and Bradley Roby broke into the backfield to get to Case Keenum. During the third-team repetitions that same period, Antonio Simmons broke through to reach Lynch for what would have been a sack.
... Defensive lineman Shelby Harris dominated during one team period, blowing up a handoff from Kelly to Devontae Booker on first-and-10 from the defense's 45-yard line. One snap later, he pursued Kelly out of the backfield, forcing a hurried attempt to Sutton that fell incomplete.
... Ron Leary returned to practice, taking the first-team repetitions at left guard.
... Cornerback Tramaine Brock saw extensive work Tuesday after being gradually worked back up to speed following his hamstring injury.
"They’ve been rehabbing him hard," Woods said. "He’s not all the way back, but he is taking some reps in practice."
... Rookie offensive lineman Sam Jones left practice due to back spasms. Austin Schlottman replaced him at center on the second unit, with Connor McGovern and Max Garcia getting third-team work at center.