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In wake of Jeff Heuerman's injury last season, Broncos alter rookie camp

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Almost a year ago to the day, a somewhat sullen Gary Kubiak stepped to the podium and revealed tight end Jeff Heuerman would miss his first NFL season because of a torn ACL. Heuerman suffered the injury in the Broncos' rookie minicamp.

At the time, Kubiak said “I feel terrible for Jeff’’ and used the phrase “unfortunate situation’’ to describe Heuerman’s injury. Iin the wake of that injury, as well as the season-ending injury Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. suffered in his rookie minicamp last year, things have changed.

“I think everybody’s taken a hard look at that and we have too," Kubiak said.

The Broncos will conduct their rookie minicamp with the team’s newest draft class, including first-round pick quarterback Paxton Lynch, Friday and Saturday at their suburban Denver complex. And this time around the emphasis will be far more on walk-through practices with plenty of teaching moments rather than drills that require the players to go all-out.

“(Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager) John (Elway) and I have had this conversation,’’ Kubiak said. “There’s a fine line there, because you’ve drafted these young men, they work hard to get ready for the combine. You know what have they been doing since then? You’re running them here … all of a sudden you go full speed for four practices, probably not the smartest thing to do.’’

After Heuerman’s and Fowler’s injuries, there was plenty of discussion around the league about whether the transition rookies were trying to make from all of their pre-scouting combine and pre-draft training, which mostly consists of agility drills and sprints as opposed to the more traditional work in football drills, in such a short time span was putting players at a higher risk.

Heuerman and Fowler both were injured in non-contact drills, with Heuerman having suffered his injury in the Broncos’ final on-field workout of the minicamp.

In Heuerman’s case, the Broncos were in jerseys and shorts -- no helmets -- for an afternoon workout in the team’s indoor practice facility. Heuerman was in the open field during a special-teams drill, planted his left leg to cut and the knee buckled.

Hours later, the confirmation came, in the form of an MRI, that Heuerman’s season was over. The Broncos have taken the same step several other teams have, including the Jaguars and Miami Dolphins, to change the kinds of workouts the rookies would initially take part in.

After Friday’s and Saturday’s work, the Broncos rookies will join the rest of the team in the offseason workouts currently underway.

“We’re adjusting, more teaching,’’ Kubiak said. “We’d like to come out of the weekend knowing exactly where guys are and put them with our football team Monday and start to acclimate them.’’

Even though they saw him work in only a handful of practices, the Broncos had big plans for Heuerman in the offense last season. And, after seeing him work alongside Peyton Manning when he was trying to return to the lineup with a foot injury, the expectations for Heuerman may have even been ramped up.

Manning called Heuerman “an awesome football player’’ and Kubiak and Elway have said Heuerman will have a big role in an offense that is expected to feature more two-tight end and two-back sets than it did in recent seasons.