ENGLEWOOD Denver Broncos safety Jim Leonhard practiced Tuesday for the first time since undergoing a right knee operation in December.
It feels better than it did before I hurt it, said Leonhard, who clearly was relieved to finally get back on the football field after eight grueling months.
Coming back from an injury, you just want to prove yourself, and I havent been able to do that up to this point, Leonhard said. It just feels good to finally get back out on the field. I put a lot of time into this rehab. It was a tough one, and Ive put in the work. And now its time to get back on the field and hopefully make some plays.
After starring at Wisconsin, Leonhard played three seasons in Buffalo and one in Baltimore before becoming a three-year starter with the Jets in New York, where he emerged as a fan favorite, noted for his hard-hitting style despite his undersized 5-8, 190-pound frame.
The Jets chose not to re-sign him after he underwent surgery in December to repair a tendon in his right knee, an injury that usually takes eight to 10 months to heal. The Broncos signed him Aug. 4 after he was able to demonstrate enough strides in his rehab.
On Tuesday, Leonhard participated in drills with Denvers other defensive backs but was held out of team drills. He said he hopes he can practice in team portions when the Broncos return Thursday from a day off.
Leonhard also said hed like to play in one of Denvers final two preseason games, but hes sure the training staff will protect me from myself and take things slowly.
The Broncos removed him from their PUP list and placed him on their 90-man roster. They also waived cornerback Joshua Moore.
The Broncos took a chance on Leonhard, whos been working out with strength and conditioning coach Luke Richesson and head athletic trainer Steve Antonopulos.
We actually did move him around (when) he came in for a workout, head coach John Fox said. There was a lot of evidence on tape of what he can do, and it was just a matter of needing a little time to heal, and we gave him that time.
Leonhard is eager to show the Broncos they made the right call.
You really can only show so much until you get on the field, Leonhard said. Obviously, theyve liked what Ive done in the past, and I proved that my knee was good enough to bring me in, but youre still sitting on the sideline and watching, and thats not a very good place to be when youre trying to prove yourself.
Leonhard will ease his way into a star-studded secondary that was bolstered Monday by the return of second-year safety Quinton Carter from a pulled right hamstring and surgery on his left knee.
We could be a great defense, we really could, and thats what gets me excited, Leonhard said. Sitting on the side and seeing guys make plays, thats the frustrating part. Youre excited to get back out there and do it with them.