ENGLEWOOD, Colo. —** The initial feeling was one of relief, but once the evening passed, the morning brought test results and bad news.
Ryan Clady was setting pass protection on Wednesday, the first day of the Broncos' Offseason Team Activity practices when he felt his knee buckle a little, Head Coach Gary Kubiak said. The four-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle then picked himself up, aware something didn't feel quite right, and then tried to go again the next play. After that he then pulled himself out of the next play and the coaching staff decided to have him rest for the remainder of the day.
However, the staff didn't have an indication that it would be as severe as the eventual result, a torn left ACL.
"We really weren't that worried last night," Kubiak said on Thursday. "Everybody felt good but we thought we'd take a look at it this morning and unfortunately we got some horrible news."
The news leaves big implications for an offensive line that was already looking to bring three new starters into the fold in the trenches. As disappointing as that is from a football standpoint, it's been a difficult blow for Clady, who's been a two-time First-Team All-Pro and fought to get past injuries the past few years.
Offensive Coordinator Rick Dennison was on the Broncos' coaching staff when Clady was drafted in 2008 in the first round. He's seen Clady develop and knows how tough it is for him.
"My heart goes out to Ryan because I know how much work he's put into being a professional athlete, and I have a great relationship [with him]," Dennison said. "I feel bad for him but there's very little that we can do about that other than support him and then work on from there. I'm crushed."
Dennison's had plenty on his plate with trying to get a feel for the mix of experience and youth in their offensive line ranks, and the injury leaves him with a hole: "I know what he's capable of so I was really looking forward to getting him in and obviously he'd be a great leader, too."
Losing the on-field leadership that Clady has—as the most tenured Bronco on the roster, no less—was a point of emphasis for Kubiak, too.
"Anytime you lose a player it's a blow," Kubiak began. "Ryan's obviously not only a veteran player on this team, he's a leader on this team, too, so that makes it even more difficult. But if you're in this business playing, coaching you're going to face these very difficult things like this. And how you respond to them has a lot to do with what you end up being, what your football team ends up being."
The constant march of NFL teams in their first stages of preparing for the 2015 season means the Broncos will have to refocus quickly after this with little else to do besides support Clady and help the team press onward with some more emphasis on bringing up the young players.
"He's worked really hard and he's a great kid and we were counting on him but that's the challenges in this business and we've got to work through them and we're going to work through them," Kubiak said. "Players have got to work through it, coaches have got to work through it and somebody else has to step up. [It's a] very tough day for me and it's even tougher for Ryan, but this football team will stay positive and keep pushing."