ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — With the Broncos eliminated from playoff contention and staring down the final portion of the season, it would perhaps be understandable if Randy Gregory were to spend the last four games of the season on the sideline.
The Broncos pass rusher has been on injured reserve since the early portion of the season, when he suffered a knee injury against the Raiders in Week 4.
Gregory, though, dismissed a reporter's notion that he could be better served to shut things down for the season and enter the offseason at full strength.
"I've shut it down enough," Gregory said Wednesday. "I've missed a lot of time. I'm to the point now where I want to help where I can. I understand the landscape, the situation we're in as a unit, but I think it's important to go out there and end the season on a good note. I've been hurt most of the year, [so] to be able to go out there and play and end the year healthy and in the right mindset … is important for me and everyone."
Gregory — who made a noticeable impact to start the year with two sacks, two forced fumbles and seven quarterback hits — said he hoped to be back earlier in the season to help his team avoid their current fate. The status of his injured knee, though, prevented him from returning.
"I wish [a return] would've happened earlier," Gregory said. "I've been through this injury before, and every single one has been a little different than the last. What I'll say without saying too much is it was a little bit different than the last one I had a couple years ago. With that, coupled with me being a little bit older, it takes a little bit more time to get back. It's important for me to get back and get back the right way and be healthy and be the player I know I can. Getting back earlier or early enough to help — four, three, five games … ago — that [would have been] big, but it just wasn't possible at the time."
Gregory and Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett both said the hope is for Gregory to make his return to game action on Sunday against the Cardinals, and the Broncos will monitor Gregory's status throughout the week.
"That's what I'm aiming for," Gregory said. "There's still a few steps I need to take to get to that point. Like I said, day to day. I feel like I did real well today. It was a jog-through, it wasn't a lot. But [I] made it through individual [drills]. That was a big deal for me, being able to get through that. I [felt] warmed up, I [felt] good enough to go through team period. From here, it's just like I said, getting more reps in team and hopefully be able to go out there and play this weekend."
Gregory said it's unlikely he would be able to play a full game, but he said he would evaluate how he feels pregame and during the game, if he plays.
And while the Broncos were officially eliminated from playoff contention with Sunday's loss to the Chiefs, Gregory still sees value in returning to the field for the final four games.
"I think it's important not only for myself but for everyone," Gregory said. "It's a new setting for us all, new team, top to bottom. I think it's big for me or anybody to get out there for us to kind of get that cohesiveness, things like that, heading into the offseason and next year. Go out on a good note."
With Gregory, the Broncos will regain a physical player who has the capability to destroy an opposing offense's game plan.
"I like to call those types of guys game-wreckers," Justin Simmons said. "Run game, pass game, he just goes in there and messes everything up. On paper, you have this run gap. But R.G. and those guys are in there and they blow the gaps up. You just are playing football at that point, and that's a lot of what he does and obviously is super talented at getting to the quarterback and helping us out in the back end with coverages and things like that. He's a game-wrecker."
With Gregory on the field, the Broncos may also be able to get a glimpse of life after Bradley Chubb. It's possible that Baron Browning or Nik Bonitto could be options to start across from Gregory in 2023, and Denver could get an early look at that rotation in the final weeks of the season.
Gregory's return may not come as soon as he previously hoped, but the veteran pass rusher will continue to fight to be on the field with his teammates.
"It's not obviously the best timing for what I wanted," Gregory said, "but the main thing is to get back out there, get my feet wet again, make some plays and try to lead the defense whatever way I can."