Stokley takes first steps toward comeback

DENVER (AP) -Brandon Stokley felt like a rookie again.

The ninth-year pro returned to the field for the Denver Broncos' minicamp on Monday and did individual work to test his right Achilles' tendon, which he ruptured last November, leading to his offseason release from the Indianapolis Colts.

"This is kind of the first little baby step toward getting ready for training camp," said Stokley, who hopes to be practicing in pads by the time the team starts up July 29.

"I feel like I could be doing what they're doing right now, but I'm just easing my way back into it."

He admittedly was nervous getting back on the field again, and on a new one at that.

"It's a good feeling, though, new organization, new team," Stokley said. "You kind of get those butterflies in your stomach again. It's exciting to be out there on the field."

Stokley has been rehabbing in Denver ever since signing a one-year deal with the Broncos on March 22.

He tore his Achilles' on Dec. 10 at Jacksonville and underwent surgery just before Christmas, missing out on the Colts' Super Bowl run.

He said he feels as though he's been away from the game for much longer than that, though.

Stokley also missed six games last season because of a sprained left knee and missed much of training camp last summer with a sprained left knee. He had just eight catches for 85 yards and a touchdown in 2006.

"Last year, I really didn't play, in my mind," Stokley said. "I'd play a game, get hurt, play another game, get hurt. Last year was just a rough year, so it's been a long time since I felt healthy and I felt good. Right now, I feel really good."

Stokley, who has overcome shoulder, foot and knee injuries, said he rehabs as hard as he plays and this offseason he felt extra motivation.

"I kind of got hit with a dose of reality this year with my injury," he said. "I kind of thought I might be done and I didn't like it. That's why I've worked so hard to get back because it's motivation because I didn't want to finish off like I did last year. I want to go out on top, not being injured."

Stokley spent the last four seasons in Indianapolis, where his best year was 2004, when he had 68 catches for 1,077 yards and 10 touchdowns, teaming with Pro Bowlers Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne to become the first receiving trio in NFL history to each eclipse 1,000 yards and 10 TDs.

Broncos fans, however, remember him best for his monster wild-card game against Denver in 2004, when he caught four passes for 144 yards and two touchdowns.

"I haven't talked about that too much over here," Stokley said. "That's kind of behind me now. I'm just looking forward to a new start, a fresh start."

Stokley won his first Super Bowl title with Baltimore in 2000, and he said he picked Denver over other suitors because the Broncos have the ingredients to help him get a third championship ring.

He's eager to play in an offense with the strong-armed Jay Cutler distributing the ball. He said Cutler, a second-year pro who started five games last season, reminds him a bit of Peyton Manning.

"They both have great arms, they both have a great feel for the offense," Stokley said. "And that's the main thing you have to have as a quarterback: you have to know the offense inside and out and you can definitely see that he does.

"He's got a great arm, not afraid to sling it around, kind of a Brett Favre mentality."

With Rod Smith, the team's all-time leader in receptions and touchdowns, recovering from left hip surgery, the Broncos expect second-year pro Brandon Marshall to start alongside Javon Walker but the No. 3 spot is wide open and Stokley hopes to fill it.

"He's been looking good the last couple of weeks," coach Mike Shanahan said. "He didn't (participate in full team) practice today, but he's ahead of schedule and when we start camp, he should be 100 percent go."

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