ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --After missing a few practices and the Broncos' preseason opener as he recovered from a calf injury, Justin Bannan returned to the field on Monday.
With a few practices under his belt since suiting back up, Bannan said he's getting back up to full speed.
"I feel good," he said on Thursday. "The calf is feeling better. It's still a little tender, but I felt pretty good today. I felt like I could go at a faster pace than what I had been doing the past few days. It's coming along. They keep telling me to be real patient with it. I just don't want any setbacks at this point in time."
The next step for the defensive line is Saturday's preseason home opener against Seattle. Bannan hopes to make his first appearance at Sports Authority Field at Mile High since he was last on the team in 2010 in what would also be his 2012 preseason debut.
Preseason games offer a better glimpse of where the linemen stand, since even a full-contact practice isn't 100 percent live like a game.
"It's hard to gauge. Even when you play in the preseason games, it's hard to gauge," Bannan said. "I think what you can do is come out every day and try to get better at your craft, focus on what you need to do and try and improve from there."
Even though the line has had pieces missing with injuries throughout camp, the veterans in the group have the experience necessary to continue moving forward.
"We know when we're in there what needs to be done, what job we have to do," Bannan said. "We just miss time working together, but we can make up for that."
WOLFE CATCHING EYES
Rookie Defensive lineman Derek Wolfe is one of the players figuring to play a larger role for the Broncos with the recent injury to defensive end Jason Hunter.
After Thursday's practice, coaches and players expressed their confidence in Wolfe's abilities and approach.
"I just like his demeanor," Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio said. "Nothing is on his mind more than coming in here and helping his team win. I really like the way he's approached the beginning to his career, coming in here with the right approach. So many young guys will come in and be distracted by a lot of other things. He's just not been that kind of kid."
Del Rio added that Wolfe's versatility on the line is what makes him such a valuable asset.
"He picks up things quickly," he said. "They did a lot with him in college, so he's been exposed to a lot. He played all along the front, from nose (tackle) to defensive end out wide. He's done a lot of those different things, so it was really a matter of him learning the terminology. He is an intelligent young man, and he's done a nice job of picking things up."
The rookie has also caught the eye of veteran defensive tackle Justin Bannan for the same reasons that Del Rio has him playing with the first-team defense.
"I think he's a dynamic player," Bannan said. "He's got a good edge rush. He's a big body but he can also come from the outside. And I think that's a good changeup."
The words of praise kept coming in for the Cincinnati alum who ranked fifth in the nation with 21.5 tackles for loss last year for the Bearcats.
"He's a fabulous young man, brings a lot of toughness," Head Coach John Fox said. "The way he prepares is contagious. He's a big, physical body, and he's got a great skill set at rushing the passer. We'll primarily use him on sub-downs or extra-receiver downs inside, so he's got a lot of flexibility."
But much like the rest of the players, Wolfe has a ways to go before he's ready for the 2012 regular season opener – especially now that his role in the defense has expanded.
"He's got a lot of work to do," Del Rio said. "But I like the way he's started."
ROOKIES WELCOMED TO THE TEAM
In training camps around the NFL, veterans have been known to have rookies carry their pads and sing school fight songs. Occasionally, the older players even pull pranks on the youngsters.
With Wednesday night marking the last night at the team hotel for several of the veterans, rookies returned to their rooms to find something missing.
If a rookie was looking to change into different clothes when he got back to the hotel after meetings, he'd have to make a pit stop in the lobby, because that's where all the rookies' clothing ended up.
"A little rookie welcome to the team," Woodyard laughed. "They had to find some of their clothes."
Quarterback Brock Osweiler tweeted a picture of the scene (see photo below).
It was all done in good fun by the un-named veterans to keep the mood light as the dog days of camp drew to a close.
"I remember my rookie days," wide receiver Eric Decker said. "Getting haircuts, running through the mud puddle we built. It's just fun, joking around stuff. It's good fun. You have to have that to put some smiles on some guys' faces."