ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --For all the success and fun the Broncos had on the football field this year, there's always one side to every team that usually gets lost amongst everything happening on Sundays.
That side is represented by the injured players. The Broncos ended the season with nine players on injured reserve, and that doesn't include Brian Dawkins or Eric Decker, both of whom missed at least the last game against New England due to injury.
"It is tough," Decker said. "I got pretty antsy at the house before the game started because I wanted to be out there. I didn't miss a game until this week. I understand that injuries are part of the process and I have great faith in my teammates and what they're capable of doing."
While Decker watched that last game from home, cornerback Cassius Vaughn had been doing that since Week 13, when the Broncos played in Minnesota against the Vikings.
Vaughn was injured on a kickoff return against the San Diego Chargers in Week 12 and the Broncos moved him to IR the following day.
Watching the games at home wasn't easy for the second-year pro. But it made him realize how the game looked from a fan's point of view. He even tweeted during some of the games.
"It was so difficult to watch," Vaughn said. "I'm at home watching, sweating like I'm playing the game and I understand from a fan's perspective how excited you can be about the game of football. It really takes you to a point where you enjoy and appreciate the purity of the sport. It was a real humbling experience for me."
Vaughn had played a prominent role in the Broncos' season up to that point, doing just a little bit of everything. He started his first NFL game in Week 2 against Cincinnati, had an interception return for a touchdown in Week 5 against San Diego and had a fumble recovery and 67-yard kickoff return in Week 11 against the Jets.
However, Vaughn's injury the following week against the Chargers forced him to sit out the first games of his career due to a serious injury. But he plans to be back next season, better than ever.
"This is the first time in my career I've ever had to sit out like this but it made me appreciate and love what I do that much more and I'm just happy I went through this an I'll come back stronger than I've ever been in my life," Vaughn said.
Fellow cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson made a similar vow. However, unlike Vaughn, Thompson sat out the entire season after injuring his Achilles in the last preseason game against Arizona.
It was a tough break for Thompson, who was coming off a rookie season which saw him tie for the team lead with two interceptions, play in 13 games and recover a fumble. Thompson was also having a promising training camp before the season-ending injury.
So while the team was riding a six-game winning streak thanks to all their dramatic, exciting comeback wins, Thompson was not able to be a part of the celebration.
"It was tough," Thompson said. "Starting off in training camp, I feel like I had a good chance of making the team. Just a freak injury happened and the toughest thing is seeing the team go through the ups and downs and having positive success towards the end of the season, not being able to contribute, it was real tough. All I could do is control what I can control and get healthy and hopefully I can make the team next year."
But with all the players staying at home, defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson chose to travel to all the team's away games, even after he was placed on IR during the bye week after suffereing an ankle injury against San Diego in Week 5.
Vickerson would watch the games from various places in the stadium, sometimes even the press box, because he wanted to be with his teammates and friends.
"Just showing my support, just seeing if I could see anything on the sidelines for the guys, just trying to be a part of this thing," Vickerson said.
General Manager Brian Xanders said that all the players who ended the season on injured reserve – which also include starting right guard Chris Kuper, starting fullback Spencer Larsen, running back Knowshon Moreno and defensive tackle Ty Warren – should be ready to go by training camp.
"Those guys have worked really hard with our trainer [Steve] 'Greek' Antonopulos and they are all on schedule to be ready for training camp," Xanders said. "We'll obviously monitor their progress as we go through the offseason but we hope for the best for them and we have some time. It'll be great to see them come back from training camp."