So the news that Clady's surgically-repaired left knee has healed sufficiently to allow him to return to practice and possibly be back in time for the Sept. 12 season-opener was a best-case scenario.
"He's been working very hard with his whole rehab process and we'll just see how he is, and day by day, see if he can handle more and if he can't and so forth," offensive line coach Clancy Barone said. "But we're all very, very anxious and so is he."
Clady was injured this spring while playing pickup basketball. Shortly after, head coach Josh McDaniels seemed to take the tackle off the hook, explaining that hoops is a common activity for players during their down time and that it was an unfortunate accident.
"It's just something I do in the offseason to try and stay in shape," Clady said. "I don't do that anymore, so we won't have this discussion again."
It was Clady's first-ever surgery and a rigorous rehabilitation. Denver removed him from the active/non-football injury list Aug. 25. The Broncos have been playing fifth-year player D'Anthony Batiste in his place and also have taken a look at rookie Zane Beadles there, but Clady - a 2009 All-Pro - is the type of player that changes blocking schemes.
"You can make small differences in play calls to help out with your backup tackle or whatever," quarterback Kyle Orton said. "But usually when the big guy is out there, he's one on one. Everybody knows that."
Clady was going through movement drills with his position group but was wearing an orange non-contact jersey upon his return. He'll be eased back to a point to where he'll play as many snaps as he can handle in Week 1, which may or may not be a full game.
"There's nothing that has really been outlined and is black and white: He can do this; he can't do that," Barone said. "Let's just see where he's at day by day and if we have to go faster, we'll go faster and if we have to pull back, we'll pull back. It's kind of a daily evaluation process with that."
The Broncos at the very least could use some time to build continuity among the starters, a projected group that has never been together on the practice field until last week, never mind a game. Right tackle Chris Kuper also has missed time with an ankle injury. Center J.D. Walton and Beadles are rookies. Right tackle Ryan Harris - coming off toe surgery - actually has been among the camp's iron men, having practiced every day.
"We'll definitely get time to practice with him. We should be fine," Kuper said.
Clady talked about feeling good and just trying to get back to full speed. He spent time not only rehabilitating physically but staying "focused on football, watching film and seeing what the other guys are doing and trying not to make the same mistakes."
The tackle added he feels no added pressure to be back for the opener and that he'll simply "try to get back as soon as possible," though Sept. 12 is realistic.
"Some of the guys that have never seen him play, they're excited," McDaniels said upon Clady's return. "The quarterback is obviously excited. But I think the guys who have played in that spot have done a good job, too, and they're going to have to continue to do a good job because Ryan isn't quite ready to go out there and play 75 plays at this point."
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