Jim Leonhard practices for 1st time with Broncos

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 was clearly 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 haven’t 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 I’ve put

in the work. And now it’s 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-foot-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 on

Aug. 4 after he was able to demonstrate enough strides in his

rehab.

On Tuesday, Leonhard participated in drills with Denver’s other

defensive backs but was held out of team drills. He said he hopes

he can practice in team portions when the Broncos (No. 10 in the AP

Pro32) return Thursday from a day off.

He also said he’d like to play in one of Denver’s final two

preseason games, but he’s 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, who’s 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,” 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, they’ve liked what I’ve done in the

past and I proved that my knee was good enough to bring me in, but

you’re still sitting on the sideline and watching and that’s not a

very good place to be when you’re 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 that’s what

gets me excited,” Leonhard said. ”Sitting on the side and seeing

guys make plays, that’s the frustrating part. You’re excited to get

back out there and do it with them.”

Notes: Fox was chaffed by a columnist who suggested the Broncos

should switch back to a 3-4 defensive scheme: ”I think we have

some fairly proven defensive minds on our staff, but we appreciate

the suggestions,” cracked Fox.

Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton on Twitter:

http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

Online: http://bigstory.ap.org/NFL-Pro32 and

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