ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – After spending most of the last two seasons on injured reserve, safety Quinton Carter has been waiting for this moment for a very long time.
He started 10 games as a rookie in 2011, notably picking off both Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady in the playoffs. But a knee injury he incurred during offseason practice in 2012 put his promising career on hold.
The Broncos were willing to wait.
"It means the world, especially in this business," Carter said of the Broncos keeping him on injured reserve and not releasing him. "They pretty much believed in me and that gave me the confidence to just take my time and get healthy. Now I'm ready to make a difference."
He played three games in 2012, but he had not completely recovered from his injury. A microfracture procedure mid-season forced him to miss the remainder of the 2012 and the entirety of 2013. He said it feels like "an eternity" since he last played.
Carter said that it's easy to be forgotten in the NFL. Though they had to wait longer than expected, the Broncos didn't forget Carter and his potential. He is now fully participating in the Broncos' offseason program. He said it was an emotional return to the field.
"I'm ecstatic to be out here," Carter said. "I just sit out there and just take it all in, like you know, I'm really out here playing and getting a chance to play again. I'm truly blessed and thankful."
Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio said Carter's instinctive play and his confidence make him a great addition to the defense.
"There's a guy who, I know as an organization, we've been very patient with to allow him to heal and do the things he needed to do from addressing the knee and having it surgically prepared, and the healing process that goes into that," Del Rio said. "I think at this point, I'm not a trainer or a doctor, but I see him moving around in drills and he looks pretty good. I know he's excited to get back into the mix."
Staying optimistic was often difficult for him during his long recovery, but now he is "taking it a day at a time, getting better each day." There were times when he thought he would never play again.
Carter utilized veterans who had already had the procedure to help him gain confidence that he would eventually be back on the field. Rod Woodson, who is currently with the Broncos coaching staff as part of the Bill Walsh NFL Minority Coaching Fellowship, reminded Carter that he played for 14 years after having the same surgery as him. Carter said Woodson told him not to get discouraged and that he would eventually get back to where he should be as a player.
"Not a lot of people have had the procedure and played afterwards, but I just felt personally, in my mind, just knowing how my body was feeling in rehab and everything that I would be back to this point," Carter said.
Carter is adding depth to the secondary and finding his place on a defense that looks very different than the one he was last on the field with. Now that he is finally fully healthy, he is prepared to make the impact the team thought he would when he was drafted in 2011.