ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Linebacker Joe Mays would have liked to be a much bigger part of the Broncos' 11-game winning streak to end the 2012 regular season.
Early in the season, Mays anchored the defense, starting at middle linebacker in four of the six games he played in. But in the Broncos' 34-14 defeat of New Orleans in Week 8, Mays' season ended abruptly when an ankle injury sent him to the team's injured reserve list. The win over the Saints proved to be the second victory in what became an 11-game winning streak to end the season. Though Mays' injury prevented him from being involved in the way he would have preferred, it didn't stop him from enjoying the ride and taking pride in the team's success.
"I just learned that these guys don't take no for an answer," Mays said the day after the team's season ended. "That's how this locker room has been for a long time. They went out there, they proved to everybody that they could be better than a lot of people expected us to be. I'm just looking forward to coming back and being a part of everything and being healthy."
While Mays was proud of the Broncos' effort in his absence, he didn't deny the difficulty of experiencing the team's regular-season run from the outside looking in.
"It was tough to be sitting at home watching these guys on TV, just seeing the progress that we made from the first couple of games toward the middle of the season and the end," Mays said.
One feeling the injury didn't deprive Mays of was the disappointment following the season-ending loss to Baltimore in the Divisional Round. But Mays was among those focusing on the motivation that will result from falling short of the lofty goals the Broncos harbored entering the playoffs as the No. 1 seed.
"I think it makes guys more hungry than what they were before," Mays said. "I'm definitely looking forward to coming back to work with these guys, because in a way it's going to be fun, but I know there's going to be a ton of guys who feel the same way I do. They're hungry to get back in the same position we were and to be better."
But before Mays can help the Broncos duplicate their regular season success and follow it with a deeper playoff run in 2013, he must finish his rehabilitation. When the Broncos were cleaning out their lockers after the season, he had recently had the boot on his injured ankle removed and was using only one crutch instead of two. Though work still remains before he can walk without a crutch, Mays already is confident that he'll be ready to go when Denver begins its 2013 training camp, and possibly even sooner.
"I should be just about there (for) OTAs," Mays said. "But definitely training camp."
In addition to being excited to get back to full strength physically, Mays is eager for his return to the field because of the type of teammates he will be rejoining.
"We're trying to move further next year," Mays said. "This is a locker room full of guys who know what it takes to be professionals and know what it takes to go out there and take care of business each and every week. I'm looking forward to being a part of that."