Consider Jake Butt one of the Broncos’ auxiliary tight ends, a capable backup behind starters Noah Fant and Nick Vannett.
Consider him late to arrive as a regular contributor after being drafted in the fifth round in 2017.
But don’t consider Butt anymore as an oft-injured player, one who’s had three ACL repairs since college plus a meniscus cleanup that caused him to miss all of last year’s regular season.
“I’m feeling healthy and strong, and while I know that the games are a different speed and intensity, I’m excited for that challenge,” Butt said. “I’m putting that (injured) part of my life behind me.”
Butt played in three games in 2018 before tearing the ACL in his left knee during practice, and has eight receptions for 85 yards in his NFL career. His path to making this season’s opening-week roster was cleared by a strong camp, and considering he is one of just four true tight ends on the 53-man, he’s likely to see ample time in Denver’s two tight-end sets.
Beyond Fant and Vannett, Albert Okwuegbunam is a rookie who still has to prove capable run blocking, and Andrew Beck is a fullback/tight end hybrid.
“(Butt) is ready to play on Monday night in any role that we see fit for him,” coach Vic Fangio said. “He’s capable of playing both tight end positions, both the wide tight end and the second tight end in the game. I’m sure we’ll use him… For a guy with his history, to be moving around the way he is and never seeing anything affect him is a great story and a great comeback.”
Fangio noted that Butt’s looked “as good as new” in the preseason, as he has been running and cutting without any hints of pain. And he hasn’t worn a brace on either of his surgically-repaired knees.
All the rehabilitation Butt put in over the past calendar year has paid dividends, and his teammates are taking notice of his businesslike approach.
“He has a will and a drive within himself,” wideout Courtland Sutton said. “I don’t think anyone else could fight like he did through those injuries, fight through that rehab and get back on the field and go perform… I’m excited to see him go out and perform the way he does on Monday and the rest of the season because the dude is a baller. It’s so cool to see him be able to have the opportunity to be able to play because of all the things he’s been through.”
But Butt doesn’t want to come down with a case of myopia. As the former John Mackey Award winner for college football’s top tight end takes in the details of the Tennessee defense for Monday night at Empower Field, his focus is on being a sustained contributor for a Denver offense with little experience, but loaded with potential.
“My mindset is the same this week as it has always been, and that’s to focus on winning,” Butt said. “(My comeback story) is cool and everything, and I’m definitely not taking anything for granted, but I’m looking at it from a wider view. That means being a reliable guy at a deep position for us and it starts through each and every rep at practice, and by learning the (opposing) defense, so that my individual preparation will help us win on Monday.”
With a new coordinator in Pat Shurmur, there will surely be some growing pains for the offense against the Titans and beyond. But Butt maintained confidence in his and the Broncos’ skill players to gel immediately, especially if Drew Lock is the skilled quarterback everyone in the Denver locker room believes him to be.
“There’s not a throw on that field that Drew Lock can’t make,” Butt said. “Our overall confidence has been building with him, and with me and him, and I’m excited to see us put it all together, put all our young weapons on the field and just go make plays. Age is just a number, and we’ve got a bunch of young, hungry dudes, but a lot of young dudes who are leaders as well, like Drew.”