Englewood, Colo. — Jake Butt couldn’t help but get a little nostalgic over the simple routine of putting all his pads on again.
Reasonable. It’s been a while.
The Denver Broncos tight end and former Michigan standout returned to the field in full gear Tuesday for the first time since tearing his right ACL against Florida State in the Orange Bowl on Dec. 30, 2016.
“I kind of thought about it when I put on the pants. It was like, ‘Man, I haven’t put on the pads in almost two years,’” Butt said. “It was exciting. It felt good out there.”
Next order of business: Jerseys.
Butt and his family don’t mind having a little fun with their last name. And now that he’s fully healthy, those No. 80 uniforms will be going fast — taken by his clan and completely customized (his father had “Papa Butt “ on his jersey when Jake was at Michigan).
“We’re ordering in bulk,” Butt said. “We’re building the ‘Butt Army’ out here, for sure.”
It was on hold last season as the 23-year-old recovered from the knee injury that caused him to slip to the fifth round of the 2017 draft. The Broncos were hopeful to have him back for the second half last season, but he wasn’t ready and went on injured reserve.
Butt declared Tuesday his knee feels “100 percent” again. He wasn’t wearing a protective brace when the team donned full pads.
He could be a big boost to the tight end corps. The 6-foot-6, 250-pound Butt won the John Mackey Award as the nation’s top tight end his senior season at Michigan. He had three catches for 28 yards against Florida State in the Orange Bowl before tearing his knee.
His recovery has been somewhat slower than he anticipated. The rehab has been filled with plenty of ups and downs.
“It’s not just you’re getting better and better every day. You have some days that are better than others,” said Butt, who had 138 catches for 1,646 yards while with the Wolverines. “In that sense, you have a mental component. But once you’re on the field, for me personally, you’re playing football. You’re not thinking about any bumps and bruises you might have.”
He used the down time in 2017 memorizing his routes and reads. He’s putting it to good use now.
“I had a year to observe how pro football really works,” Butt said. “Going back to the spring, I really got into the playbook so I can hit the ground running in camp.”
Butt has plenty of competition in camp among a tight end group that’s got deep Big Ten Conference roots. There’s rookie Troy Fumagalli, a fifth-round pick out of Wisconsin. There’s also Jeff Heuerman, a third-round pick in 2015 from Ohio State who’s currently sidelined by a balky knee. Not to be left out: Matt LaCosse attended Illinois.
Fumagalli has an easy explanation for the league’s representation.
“Well-rounded,” he said. “I can’t speak for all of the Big Ten, but a lot of the schools they expect you to be a pass catcher, a pass blocker and a run blocker. They expect you to be well-rounded.”
Butt’s hoping to display that throughout camp.
“You know you can’t come in and take a day off because that next guy up is hungry,” Butt said. “Everyone in our room is making plays and doing a great job. That’s going to help us in the long run.”
He’s already developing a solid rapport with quarterback Case Keenum.
Then again, Butt said that’s not difficult.
“Case is doing a great job connecting with a lot of guys out there,” Butt said. “That’s the advantage of having a veteran quarterback. He understands where to go with the ball, where to put the ball, what reads to make. We’re trying to take advantage of that.”
Vikings, Diggs reach deal
The Minnesota Vikings locked up another core player with a long-term contract, signing wide receiver Stefon Diggs to a five-year extension and moving the star of the “Minneapolis Miracle” pass into the NFL’s top 10 highest-paid players at his position.
Diggs has yet to post a 1,000-yard or 100-catch season, but his ability was on full display when he turned a sideline catch into a 61-yard touchdown as time ran out to lift the Vikings to victory over New Orleans in last season’s playoffs. He formed a prolific tandem with Adam Thielen last year, helping Case Keenum stabilize the passing game after Sam Bradford was injured.
The new deal is valued at $72 million plus an additional $9 million in possible incentives. Diggs, who will play the final season of his rookie deal for the original base salary of slightly more than $1.9 million, received a $15 million signing bonus.
New Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (Michigan State), is guaranteed $84 million.
Denver Broncos coach Vance Joseph said he doesn’t expect defensive end Derek Wolfe to miss any time after sustaining a neck stinger at practice.
Wolfe had surgery this offseason after dealing with neck problems off and on since 2013, when he got hurt in a preseason game at Seattle.
... Los Angeles Chargers cornerback Trevor Williams injured his leg during the fourth practice, and left on crutches.
... Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin missed a third straight practice (knee).
... San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Arik Armstead is week-to-week with a hamstring injury.