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'This is a new me': A healthy WR Tim Patrick returns to Broncos offense looking for 'best stage' of his career


ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — In the afternoon heat, Tim Patrick sits on a bench by the Broncos' practice fields and lets outs a laugh.

The Broncos' final practice of mandatory minicamp has wrapped, and Patrick has put together perhaps his best week since his return from an Achilles injury that cost him his 2023 season.

"I felt like myself," Patrick tells in mid-June after the pair of practices. "I felt twitchy. I felt like I was running [full speed]. Honestly, I think I'm right there where I was three years ago, right now."

Patrick, who has not appeared in a game since 2021 following training camp injuries to his ACL and Achilles, feels healthy again — and he's ready for the next chapter of a career in which he's already defied the odds.

The first sign of the new Tim Patrick? A change in jersey number.

Patrick quietly switched from No. 81 to No. 12 last season as he looked for a fresh start. He did the same during his collegiate career at Utah, where he chose to shift to No. 12 after several injuries wearing No. 81.

"Eighty-one was my first football number ever, so I feel like 81 brought me all the way to this point," Patrick says. "Now, for me, in my next stage of my career and the best stage of my career, I feel like 12 is going to be the one that brings me home. … I came out and I had 12 [at Utah], and I came out on fire. I just plan on bringing that same good mojo with me."

Patrick is asked if it's also possible that No. 12 makes him look faster.

That leads Patrick — who describes his on-field playing style as "violent" and sometimes angry — to flash a smile.

"I look slimmer," he says, laughing.

It's not hard for Patrick to feel the joy right now that comes with being back on the field. The former undrafted free agent failed to catch on with the Ravens and 49ers before signing with the Broncos' practice squad midway through the 2017 season. He served primarily as a special teams contributor as he appeared in all 16 games in 2018, but he came on strong late in the season and tallied 19 catches for 242 yards over his final four contests. Patrick seemed poised to be a breakout player in 2019, but he suffered a hand injury in a season-opening game against the Raiders and missed half the season.

Patrick finally found his stride over the following two seasons. He started 15 games, led the team in receiving touchdowns and posted three 100-yard games as a top receiving option in 2020, and he again led the Broncos in receiving scores in 2021 as he finished second in receiving yards. During the Broncos' bye week in 2021, Patrick signed a three-year extension to remain in Denver.

The Broncos' fiery receiver, though, has yet to appear in a game since he caught six passes for 95 yards in a Jan. 8, 2022 matchup against the Chiefs. He suffered an ACL injury as he made a cut following a catch early in training camp in 2022, and he then suffered an Achilles tear as he ran a short route on July 31, 2023.

"The toughest day was definitely the first day [after the Achilles]," Patrick says. "It was probably the most negative I've ever been in my life. Once I talked to the doctors and he told me the time span of how long it would take me to get back to myself, I kind of reset and just found a way to contribute to the team without being on the field. I didn't really want to get away from football too much, because I felt like if I got away too much, I would've started thinking about retiring. I wanted to stay as much into football as I possibly could."

Despite the strong play of Courtland Sutton in 2023, the Broncos have undoubtedly missed Patrick's contributions — both from a production standpoint and as an emotional leader on the field. Following the 2022 season, several teammates acknowledged they missed Patrick's leadership on offense, and his penchant for making contested third-down or touchdown catches was also not easily replicated.

"Granted, I wasn't here [when he last played in a game], but I kind of have an idea or vision for the player," Head Coach Sean Payton tells reporters during minicamp. "Then all the other things that he brings relative to his competitiveness, his versatility. He's a great teammate. I think he's an important part of the locker room, so it's good to see him more and be smart with that."

As he nears a return, Patrick believes he can bring "winning plays [and] winning football" back to the field.

"I pride myself on being able to do a little bit of everything, and I feel like when you have that wild card on the field, a defense can't hone in on 'This guy's going to do that, this guy's going to do that,'" Patrick says. "With me, I can do everything on the field, so they have to play me honest. Once you play me honest, I feel like I'm going to win my one on one most of the time. I think I can help with just keeping drives longer with tough catches on third down and making those plays that people don't expect you to make for touchdowns, for first downs. … I think the biggest thing I'm going to bring is keeping the offense on the field for longer and more plays, so that means more opportunities for touchdowns."

Patrick has missed those opportunities, and he says the two years away made the offseason practices feel like a "long time coming" for the veteran receiver.

"I felt real good," Patrick says of his return to the field. "Obviously, [I'm] feeling good body-wise. It was good just to be with my teammates and contribute in a way right now for practice."

Patrick says it's "fun-slash-scary" that he already feels like himself, as he expected the process to take a year. Less than 10 months removed from the surgery, Patrick says he's already checked off most of what remains on his mental to-do list.

Patrick, though, admits there's one thing left to prove to himself.

"I checked off everything besides catching a jump ball on Pat," he says. "That's literally the last thing left."

Does All-Pro cornerback Pat Surtain II know that's one of Patrick's goals?

"Yeah, I told him that," Patrick says. "[Surtain] said, 'You've never done it before, why do you think you're going to do it now?'"

This reporter chuckles, but Patrick isn't laughing.

"This is a new me," Patrick says. "Just watch."

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