ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It's been nearly 31 months since Ty Warren made his last tackle -- during the Wild Card Round of the 2009 AFC Playoffs.
A hip injury forced the defensive tackle to injured reserve in 2010, and he missed the entire year -- the first time in his career he played in less than 13 games in a season.
He signed with the Broncos as a free agent before the 2011 campaign, but a triceps injury sidelined him after the team's first preseason game and another trip to injured reserve meant a second consecutive missed season.
"When I got hurt last year, I knew it was going to be a process," Warren said. "I had to rehab. That's what I had to do. But when I got to the point where I felt like I could do some things, it was just, 'Let's go.'"
The 31-year-old said he started conditioning as much as he could as soon as he could, and hasn't stopped since.
"The staff here from the player development staff to the training staff, the strength staff, the coaching staff, across the board has been great through this whole process," he said. "I really never got discouraged, never got down on myself, never felt like there was a hump I needed to get over other than the hump of just getting back my strength."
His first major milestone was getting back on the practice field during OTAs and minicamp after signing a restructured contract in early June.
The arrival of training camp meant Warren reached another important benchmark.
"I'm working on my second half of conditioning in terms of having the pads on," he said. "The system is starting to jell together and make sense to me. I think it's just a matter of me continuing to get those repetitions."
So far in camp, those repetitions have come with the first-unit defense.
It's a spot he's accustomed to, having racked up 496 total tackles, 20.5 sacks, seven passes defensed, four forced fumbles and six fumble recoveries in seven seasons with the Patriots.
He played in 105 regular-season games, starting 92, and was a starter for 11 of his 15 postseason appearances en route to two Super Bowl championships.
But Warren knows that's in the past, just like the injury that kept him off the field last season, which he "(doesn't) even think about" anymore.
"(He's) trying to come back after a couple years of not playing football, which is a lot," Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio said. "I'm very optimistic, but it's kind of a wait and see."
"He's in the mix competing for a spot and for time, and I'm glad that he's healthy and able to go."
Defensive end Elvis Dumervil said having Warren back will be "huge" for the line. Warren is working hard to live up to that billing.
"I feel good," Warren said. "Just every day knocking the rust off."
The rust, he said, comes in three parts. First, learning a new system. Second, putting on pads again and getting used to the physicality.
"Then three, everybody just has that rust across the board in terms of doing everything drill-wise," he said. "You get out there and you've got to push and pull, fight for position and leverage -- it's kind of like a wrestling grudge match. There's nothing conditioning-wise that you really can do to prepare for that."
But even that is coming along quickly.
"Really I felt good from day one, to be honest with you," he said.
Warren's first matter of business was to understand his own role on the team. He said he's got that part down. But he still has a few more steps before he's completely ready to be the player he wants to be.
"Right now, yeah, I know the playbook, I'm getting the plays that are coming in that are being installed and I understand what I have to do in that defense," he said. "As long as I've got my hand in the dirt, I feel confident that I'm going to beat my man more times than he beats me. That's not a problem.
"That last part for me is, 'Alright, I know my stuff, what are (linebackers) Joe Mays and (Wesley) Woodyard doing behind me?'" he explained. "Then I can really flow and understand how they're thinking behind me. That allows me to play a certain way up front."
Warren said he always wants to go into a season knowing not only his position, but the positions of every player around him.
"That will come in time," he said. "Once it gets to that point, which it will, we'll be in good shape."
The players immediately beside Warren, his fellow defensive tackles, have impressed the veteran so far during training camp.
Still, he hears the talk outside the building calling that position a question mark for the club entering 2012.
"With all due respect, there's a reason for people to question that if they want to question that," he said. "I've been out two years, (Kevin) Vickerson ended the year on IR last year, (Justin) Bannan's on his fourth team, and then there's a bunch of young guys. So if there's question marks, there's question marks.
"But at the same time, that doesn't really dictate what we're doing here," he continued. "Wolfe is doing great. Vickerson, he's coming out there to play. Justin Bannan, he's a great presence in there. Mitch (Unrein) is doing a great job. Across the board, everybody out there is determined and hungry to work. That's a special thing to be a part of, really. It just breathes life into the whole defense, because everything starts up front."
With the addition of a healthy Warren, the Broncos hope the group turns into a position of strength.
So how quickly can the unit expect to see Warren return to the form that helpd him start 92 games in his first seven seasons?
"As far as me being the old Ty Warren, there might be a new Ty Warren," he said. "And that's not a bad thing. I'm going to be dominant regardless."