ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Star-crossed tight end Jake Butt felt better this summer than ever before. On Saturday he joined Washington quarterback Alex Smith as one of the NFL's biggest feel-good stories on cutdown day.
Smith returned from his gruesome 2018 leg injury to make Washington's roster.
Butt made Denver's roster after overcoming his sixth knee operation to stand out among a deep group of tight ends featuring 2019 first-rounder Noah Fant, heralded rookie Albert Okwuegbunam and free agent Nick Vannett.
Butt was a long shot a month ago.
“Well, I was kind of hopeful,” he'd made the cut, general manager John Elway said. “With everything that he’s been through I was hopeful because he’s such a great kid and it means so much to him. So, the good thing is this is probably the first time he’s come back to camp 100%.
“I’m excited about Jake. It’s something that he really wanted, so hopefully it continues to get even better from here.”
In three seasons in Denver, the ex-Michigan star has played in as many games (three) as he’s had major knee surgeries, each of which required a clean-up procedure.
Butt turned heads at camp from the very start, drawing high praise from his coach, Vic Fangio, and his quarterback, Drew Lock, who declared, “There’s nobody in our locker room that doesn’t want to see Jake Butt succeed.”
Butt, who has eight career catches for 85 yards, appreciates the sentiments but wants to put his health issues behind him.
“If you’ve been through an ACL you know how hard one is. When you go through three, it means a lot to get that recognition from your comrades, your teachers, your coaches,” Butt said recently. “But for me, I’m healthy. It’s part of my story but I’m out there, I’m out there playing ball, I’m not looking back.”
Butt’s resurgence cost third-year tight end Troy Fumagalli, who was waived/injured Saturday when the Broncos trimmed their roster to 53.
Butt first tore an ACL during spring drills his sophomore season at Michigan and he tore the other one in his final game for the Wolverines, in the Orange Bowl. The Broncos drafted him three months later, but he spent his rookie year on IR.
In 2018, he played in three games before suffering a third torn ACL, this time at practice, and last year his comeback was interrupted by yet another operation to clean out a torn meniscus. He hoped to return for the final month in 2019, but Lock got the activation nod instead after recovering from a thumb injury he'd sustained in the preseason.
Butt acknowledged some dark moments in his latest comeback when he began to question why he still loves the game that has taken such a toll on his body.
“There were a lot of days I really wanted to quit," he said.
But he said he couldn't face his family if he did that.
“It might not be the best day and the path might not be linear," Butt said. “You’re going to have some down days, but eventually you’re going to go back up.”
And eventually the pain will subside and the good days will come one after the other.
“I’m really happy I stuck with it because I do feel really, really good out there. I feel like I can still play in this league and contribute,” Butt said. “I can even get much better than what I’m playing right now. That’s a lesson I definitely learned through this and everybody can learn.
“Bad days are going to come and tough days are going to come, but you can’t quit. You just have to keep showing up.”
Butt’s perseverance paid off Saturday.
“It’s been a hell of a year for Jake,” coach Vic Fangio said. “From Day 1, and he came back with the early group, I’ve not seem him limp once. He’s not been in the training room ... He’s had a terrific camp, not just playing-wise but he’s actually 100% healthy.
“And moving around, you’d never know that he had been through the injuries that he’s had with his knees. He looks as good as new to me.”
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