ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --Taking the practice field in full pads for the first time since the dog days of training camp was a big step for tight end Joel Dreessen – and a step that Dreessen couldn't have been happier to make.
"Today and yesterday were just really good days for me as far as being able to go out there and contribute in some way," Dreessen said following Friday's practice. "Even if it was just the scout team. I was never one to take football for granted by any means, but it was a blessing to be out there."* *
Dreessen practiced in full pads on Thursday for the first time since undergoing a knee operation in early August, which brought his training camp to an early conclusion. And while his participation in practice was limited on both Thursday and Friday, simply being back on the field with his teammates was an encouraging development for Dreessen after enduring the weeks of disappointment over not being able to play.
"For me to miss that time was pretty painful. I know people in this world go through a lot more troublesome things than that, but for an athlete, a competitor, to miss practice and games like that—that hurt," Dreessen said. "It was really hard. I went eight years without hardly missing a practice and then all of the sudden I had to sit out six weeks of training camp and the first couple weeks of the season."
"It's been tough, but we're on the right track now."
After hauling in 41 receptions for 356 yards and five touchdowns in 2012, Dreessen was excited about the further contributions he could make with an extra year of familiarity with the offensive system under his belt – not to mention the additional familiarity of working with quarterback Peyton Manning.
However, a knee operation forced him to miss OTAs in June, and an additional, different knee injury – the one that brought his training camp to a close – kept him off the field even longer.
"Unfortunately, the second operation—it was a totally new injury," he said. "It was just completely bad luck. It was one of those things where I was really discouraged, just because I was looking forward to having a second year in the same offense and really working on getting better with the fine details of the offense."
His recovery – and the abundance of football still to be played in the 2013 regular season – now has Dreessen feeling much more encouraged.
"I'm feeling a ton better," he said. "I'm feeling really good."
Dreessen's status for the Raiders game on Monday night is uncertain, but Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase said that Dreesen's return to practicing in pads is an important first step towards getting back onto the field.
"He's worked hard," Gase said. "He had that setback in training camp and for him to be out there, I know he feels good about it. We'll get him ready to go as soon as possible."
Once he's ready to return, Dreessen will join tight end Julius Thomas – who has caught 11 passes for 157 yards and three touchdowns on the season – as well as Virgil Green and Jacob Tamme at tight end, adding another option to an already potent offense.
"We've got a lot of weapons at a lot of different positions," Dreessen said. "Basically, if they try to take away one guy, then the other guy who is left in single coverage—or if they give us a look that's conducive to running the ball, we've got to be able to do that. A lot of taking what the defense gives us, but at the same time, getting good at what we do, too."
And while the Broncos' explosive attack over the first two games certainly has been fun to watch – Dreessen is indubitably enthusiastic about getting back to playing the game he loves.
"We've done a lot of good things," he said. "I'm just trying to get healthy so that I can be a part of it."