ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Denver Broncos running back Javonte Williams continues his beat-the-clock return from the knee injury that finished his 2022 season after four games. While doing so he has accumulated quite the checklist of reasons why he has made it this far this fast.
There are numerous appeals to a higher power, the hundreds of back squats and three of his teammates fighting the same injury battle to keep him focused, his parents, his largely unshakable belief he can do this and his willingness to dive into the daily grind.
“It was hard at first … but each week my confidence got bigger and bigger,’’ Williams said. “Now that I’m back on the field, I think this is the highest that [my confidence] has ever been.’’
Williams, a second-round draft pick by the Broncos in 2021 and an All-Rookie team member that season, suffered a torn ACL and LCL in his right knee in the Broncos' Oct. 2 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders. He said he was initially given a timetable of 12-to-18 months to return to the field.
But there he is, as the Broncos move through the first days of training camp, ball tucked under his right arm, weaving through defenders, just over nine months after he was helped off the turf in Allegiant Stadium.
During the team’s offseason program Broncos coach Sean Payton consistently offered an optimistic outlook about Williams’ return. And when the Broncos had their first full team workout of training camp on Wednesday, Williams was in the mix and will continue to be as long as he doesn’t suffer any setbacks.
Payton has said the Broncos will take a measured approach with players who are returning from injuries as Williams, specifically, will be on a “Group 1’’ schedule -- “with days on, limited days, day off so there’s a process.’’
“ … We’re pleased, obviously, with his progress,’’ Payton said earlier this week. “We were pleased with it in the spring, but he put the work in.’’
Williams said it’s unclear if he will play in any preseason games, noting "that's up to the coaches'' -- but he said he intends to be in uniform for the Sept. 10 regular-season opener against the Raiders, ready to uncork one of his tackle-breaking runs that powered him to over 900 yards rushing as a rookie.
“Man, you know, watching Javonte go down when he went down last year, it hurt me,’’ said wide receiver Courtland Sutton, who missed 14 games in 2020 after he tore his ACL. “Because that’s a guy who loves this game and you can watch the way he goes out and plays … to see him back out there moving around the way we know he can move around is very encouraging.’’
Williams credits his speedy return to his parents -- Jermaine and Shekemia -- who lived with him two months after surgery “because I couldn’t do anything,’’ to prayer, to his hard work and to the teammates who went through the painful tedium of injury rehab together.
Wide receiver Tim Patrick, linebacker Aaron Patrick, current New York Jets running back Damarea Crockett and Williams all suffered ACL injuries for the Broncos last season. And all four spent the offseason together -- the Broncos released Crockett June 5 -- pushing each other toward a return.
”All four of us out here grinding every day, everybody else got to go home, got a break [after the team’s June minicamp closed],’’ Williams said. “We got weekends off and that was it … [it’s] a testament to our hard work.’’
The Broncos have shown confidence in Williams’ return throughout the offseason given that they did not use one of their five picks on a deep running back class in the April draft and instead eschewed a long list of veteran backs available in free agency to sign Samaje Perine, who hasn't had more than 95 carries in a season since he was a rookie in 2017.
Williams' powerful, bowl-the-defender-over style made him one of the team’s most popular young players. He was asked Thursday if he felt like he could still play with that kind of abandon after the injury and quickly replied, “That’s the plan.’’
“All of this right now is mental,’’ Williams said. “ … It’s a huge confidence boost … each week my confidence got bigger and bigger. Now that I’m back on the field, I think this is the highest that [my confidence] has ever been ... [I] got out here and started running, just forget about everything.’’