May 16, 2016

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) For a guy who hasn't played a single snap as a pro, Jeff Heuerman sure has made his mark on the NFL.

A week after getting drafted last year, the big tight end from Ohio State blew out his left ACL at the Denver Broncos' rookie minicamp. It was the same injury that Jaguars first-rounder Dante Fowler Jr. had sustained just 24 hours earlier.

Those injuries convinced teams they needed to dial back on rookie minicamps this year. So, they avoided 11-on-11 drills and full-contact workouts when they gathered the newbies on the first or second weekend after the draft.

''I figure I should get a percentage of their paycheck or something because they were doing walkthroughs and stuff,'' Heuerman cracked. ''It was a lot easier this year.''

Front office executives breathed a lot easier, too.

Heuerman went from the hugs and handshakes of the draft, when he was the 92nd overall pick, to pats on the back and looks of sorrow as he was carted off the field on just his third practice as a pro.

''I was real high getting drafted, about as high as you've been in your career. And then seven days later about as low as you've been in your career,'' Heuerman said.

A cautionary tale isn't the legacy Heuerman hopes to leave in the NFL.

Instead of chalking up 2015 as a lost season, Heuerman made it his goal ''to learn and get as comfortable in this environment as I could get.'' So, he attended every team and tight end meeting before and after practice - which he wasn't allowed to attend - and flew to every road game with his teammates.

''I wanted to get into the comfort zone of being on the road in the NFL and just feeling it out and getting ready so next year it's not so new to me,'' he said.

So, his rookie year wasn't a waste.

''Not at all,'' Heuerman said. ''I gained a lot of football knowledge.''

And he got one-on-one tutoring from one of the game's great quarterbacks.

When Peyton Manning was beginning his comeback from a foot injury, he gathered Heuerman and practice squad receiver Jordan Taylor to run routes for him during private workouts.

''I mean, that guy knows so much,'' Heuerman said. ''Like, he had us running routes at 11 1/2 yards, telling us we were going to catch it at 11 1/2. You don't hear that a whole lot.''

Manning said at the Super Bowl that he thought Heuerman has a bright future in this business, which Heuerman saw as both a compliment and a challenge.

''Peyton talking me up, I guess it's good and everything, but I have to get out there and do it and get out there on the field and perform,'' Heuerman said.

The Broncos thought enough of Heuerman, whom they used a third-round pick on last year, to say goodbye to both Owen Daniels and Vernon Davis this offseason. Now, the tight end group consists of Heuerman, Virgil Green and newcomer Garrett Graham, who played for coach Gary Kubiak in Houston.

Heuerman said his surgically repaired knee is now an afterthought. He was healthy by the time Denver beat Carolina in the Super Bowl and a month later he quit favoring it and started training hard again.

''I've been doing everything normal,'' Heuerman said. ''It's been good.''

Although Heuerman didn't play at all his rookie year, he considers himself somewhat of a veteran already.

''Just getting out there and running around with the guys and getting out on the field feels good,'' he said.

Heuerman said he likes the chemistry with the news quarterbacks, including Mark Sanchez, who will miss the start of OTAs next week after undergoing surgery on his left thumb over the weekend.

''I'm excited to be out there again. I did so much watching last year,'' Heuerman said. ''It's just every chance I can, I'm out there bugging them, catching it. `Just throw me the ball.' After practice, running a couple of extra routes. I'm just excited to be back out there.''

Maybe now he won't have to convince people he's really a Bronco.

''I remember sometimes going into the games they'd make me walk through the security and I'd have to put my keys and stuff (down). They were like, `You've got to show me something that you're on the team.' I'd have to show them my key card to get in,'' Heuerman said. ''I dealt with that a good amount. People asking, `Are you really on the Broncos?' `Yeah, I swear.'''

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Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

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