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Broncos' Chris Kuper returns to practice

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Broncos guard Chris Kuper took another step Tuesday morning in what has been a long road back from multiple ankle surgeries when he took part in his first training camp practice of the summer.

Kuper had missed all of the Broncos' offseason work and the early portion of training camp after offseason surgery to repair/replace pins and screws in his ankle as well as treatments to clear up an infection in the joint. Kuper originally suffered a gruesome fracture and dislocation of his left ankle in the 2011 regular-season finale.

He was taken off the physically unable to perform list Tuesday morning and took part, on a very limited basis, in individual drills, during the padded practice.

"Feel like a football player again,'' Kuper said. " ... [I'm] not going to lie to you and say it was a piece of cake, but no injury is.''

Up until his injury Kuper had started at least 15 games in five consecutive seasons and was a team captain. Last season he played in seven games and started five as he dealt with ankle pain after he had also missed the first four games of the year with a fractured forearm suffered in last year's training camp.

Kuper has worked with the team's strength and conditioning staff in recent days, gradually picking up his workload until he made the return to practice Tuesday. The Broncos, given a run of injuries in the offensive front, will also work Kuper at center as well in the coming weeks.

Kuper also agreed to a pay cut before his return, knocking his base salary from $4.5 million to $1.05 million. The $1.05 million will be fully guaranteed.

Previously, like any vested player, Kuper's base salary wouldn't have been guaranteed until he was on the opening-game roster. At $4.5 million, given the Broncos decreasing cap room after new deals for left tackle Ryan Clady and punter Britton Colquitt, Kuper's roster spot would have been tenuous as a player now battling to return in a possible backup role.

The pay cut gives him a chance to stay. Had they waived him injured, with a $4.5 million base salary, the team would have gained some cap savings even after a $1.05 million payout for injury protection in his old deal.

He still has two years remaining on his deal for 2014 and 2015.

"I'm glad to be here and have a chance to hang around and compete for a job,'' Kuper said. "[I'm] just trying to earn a spot on the roster right now. The main thing is be healthy enough to compete for that spot.''

Kuper is not 100 percent and won't be in the immediate future. His activity level was severely curtailed as he was being treated for the infection this past offseason so he could not maintain his conditioning even with cardio workouts as his ankle improved.

"It's hard, being injured is hard, having surgery is hard. When you're an athlete and you're just coming back performing your skill, that's a long road,'' coach John Fox said. "It takes tough-minded people and he is that guy.''