ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Before Jake Butt headed out to the practice field for the first time, he paused for an extra second in the Broncos' locker room.
The Saturday morning practice was just a walkthrough for Butt as he recovers from a torn ACL. There was no sprinting nor contact.
Butt certainly wasn't heading out of the the locker room for a game.
He relished the opportunity all the same.
"Really, I can say this 100 times, this is such a dream come true," Butt said. "It's a dream to play in the NFL, but I feel especially lucky to be in such a great organization. I put my cleats on today, I looked at my helmet and I just had to take it in for a second because it is so special and I'm very grateful to be here."
Once on the field, Butt spent most of the hour-long session with Tight Ends Coach Geep Chryst, whose instruction was more mental than physical due to Butt's limited status.
There's no set timetable for a full return, Butt said, but he's making up for the lost physical reps by burying his head in the playbook. When he does return to full participation, he'll be more than motivated to prove he should've been a first-round selection rather than the sixth tight end selected.
"It's something [Tight Ends] Coach Geep [Chryst] texted me from Day 1," Butt said. "He wants me to prove that I'm the best tight end in this class. That is why I'm here and that is why I'm here to work. That is how I feel.
"Right now, my job is just to get healthy and learn as much of this playbook as I possibly can. That has been my focus. Down the line, that is the ultimate goal."
Head Coach Vance Joseph has seen Butt's commitment to the rest of the process as he recovers. Though the rookies have only been in the building for a few days, he's made a strong impression on the first year head coach.
"When you're around Jake, you can see the maturity as far as the football player and the person," Joseph said. "In meetings, he's in the front row. He's taking every note. He's a guy that's played at a high level for a long time. We're excited about Jake.
"He just needs time to get healthy. It's his second injury, very similar to the first one. He's aware of the process. He's in good spirits and happy to be here. When he gets healthy, he can help us."
With Butt's versatility, which the rookie tight end said is "fading away" among the position group, the Broncos will gain a valuable playmaker when he's 100 percent. Butt said his biggest strengths are his understanding of defenses and his ability to play all over the field. After a 2016 season in which the Broncos struggled to produce explosive plays, that's exactly what Denver needs.
But for now, the Michigan product must wait. Though he may continue to participate in walkthroughs, he's still weeks away from being a full participant. And for a competitor like Butt, that's difficult to process.
"It's really tough [to watch]," Butt said. "Being out there, my adrenaline is still pumping. I'm so locked in and I know what I'm doing out there on every play, I just can't go out there and do it. That's tough being a competitor and being a player that wants to help the team win. I'm living through these guys out here. They're having fun and they're living out their dreams. I'm just helping where I can."