Denver Broncos DC Ed Donatell expects to return to field Sunday after battle with COVID-19

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- After an extended bout with COVID-19 that included a five-day hospital stay, Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Ed Donatell expects to be on the headset again for Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers.

Donatell was notified of his positive test on Nov. 1 and has missed the team's past six games during his recovery. He said they were the first games he has missed since his coaching career began in 1981 at the University of Washington. Asked about his recovery Thursday, Donatell said he had many moments when he was both uncertain and nervous about his illness.

"I think everybody should be nervous,'' Donatell said. "I wouldn't be telling the truth if I didn't think so, because there are so many unknowns about this virus. There are so many unknowns about it, it's not like another disease where people can tell you what's happened in the past ... You're wondering how far is this thing going to go.''

Donatell said he had few symptoms initially after his positive test results, but then "on the ninth day I started getting really heavy symptoms'' and he was eventually hospitalized for five days, a stay that came almost two weeks after his positive test.

Donatell said beyond the often-talked-about symptoms like fever and body aches, his list of symptoms included insomnia, something he said the Broncos medical staff is still checking on with him and one of the reasons he did not travel to this past Sunday night's game in Kansas City, given the team did not return to Denver until late Sunday night.

Donatell profusely thanked the Broncos trainers and doctors as well as assistant coaches Renaldo Hill and Chris Beake, whom he called "extraordinary'' as the two coached the team's defensive backs in Donatell's absence. During practice Donatell can usually be found working with the team's secondary.

Now in his third career stint with the Broncos, Donatell has spent the past 10 seasons on Broncos coach Vic Fangio's defensive staff, including time with the San Francisco 49ers and Chicago Bears.

"He's been getting better and better every day,'' Fangio said. " ... Right now we are anticipating him probably going to [Sunday's] game, but I think we'll have him in the [coaches'] box rather than on the sideline so he doesn't have to stand there for over three hours."

Donatell said watching games on television was an experience he didn't enjoy, especially as he began to participate in some of the defense's and the secondary's virtual meetings, but would then not be at practice or at games. Donatell didn't return to the practice field until late last week.

"I don't like, I don't like it ... it's definitely a weird experience,'' Donatell said of watching games. " ... It's 40 years of coaching, 30 years in the NFL and all of sudden you're sitting and watching on the tube. It's just a weird experience.''

Donatell said he is not yet back at full strength and is still working with the strength and conditioning coaches on his "cardio'' as well.

"You miss the contact with people,'' Donatell said. " ... I learned some things, I learned how special a lot of things are in life to you, how important your health is. And there's times you have to press the pause button.

" ... You need your health to do your best work in anything and that's family, your relationships, your work, that makes you stop for a second because you need it. I haven't had anything like in my life.''

Donatell is one of three Broncos coaches who have missed time this year with COVID-19 -- running backs coach Curtis Modkins and offensive line coach Mike Munchak are the others.