'It breaks your heart': Tim Patrick's torn ACL is major blow to Broncos' offense, morale

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Nathaniel Hackett’s first instinct on Tuesday when he saw a player was injured during a Denver team period was to flip the drill to the other side of the field and plow forward.

Such is life in the NFL, where injuries are an unfortunate inevitability.  

On the ground, though, was wide receiver Tim Patrick, so the show did not go on.

Instead, players circled around Patrick, who had reeled in a leaping, back-shoulder catch over slot corner Essang Bassey during a team drill only to have his right leg give out when he tried to make a move after landing, for several minutes as he was attended to by trainers.

Fellow receiver Courtland Sutton and quarterback Russell Wilson were there right away, and soon the entire ream had gathered around Patrick, the former undrafted free agent who had worked himself into perhaps the team’s most consistent receiving threat and a subsequent three-year, $34 million extension last year.

A person with knowledge of the injury confirmed to USA TODAY Sports later Tuesday afternoon that Patrick had suffered a torn right ACL, which is expected to cause him to miss the entire season. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to reveal medical information before the team disclosed the injury.

“A guy like Tim, who is such an amazing leader and has done everything we’ve asked, it breaks your heart because you love him,” Hackett said. “On the flip side, it’s going to give somebody else an opportunity to grow and really become a great player, because that’s what we’re going to need.”

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Denver Broncos wide receiver Tim Patrick takes part in drills during the NFL football team's training camp Monday, Aug. 1, 2022, at the team's headquarters in Centennial, Colo.

All told, practice halted for about five minutes. Defensive back Kareem Jackson, who is entering his 13th year in the NFL, said he didn’t think he’d seen a practice paused for as long as Denver’s did when Patrick went down.

The team period resumed, though the tenor of practice changed substantially.

“I think our team as a whole, we’ve all become really tight and everyone cares so much about each other, but Tim is such an impactful person for this team. A leader, a vet,” Sutton said. “He’s the vet that you want to mold your young guys after. The guy does everything he needs to do to make sure he’s prepared for practice, prepared for games. …

“Everyone wants to go over there to make sure he’s OK, guys are over there praying for him and telling him to keep his head up and be positive and continue to hope for the best in that situation.”

Patrick cut his teeth on special teams early in his career but has turned himself into a consistent, physical outside receiver, finishing each of the past two seasons with virtually identical numbers and totaling 104 catches, 1,476 yards and 11 touchdowns across 31 games.

Receiver KJ Hamler, who was activated off the physically unable to perform list one day earlier after knee and hip surgery last year, said he “caught a flashback” to his own injury when Patrick went down. Not long after Patrick was carted to the locker room, Hamler left the practice field and went to find him in the team’s facility.

“I walked off the field. That was more important to me,” Hamler said. “I just prayed with him. God works in mysterious ways. I don’t know, it’s hard to even explain right now.”

When the day started, one of the more intriguing questions facing the Denver offense under Hackett was just how quickly Wilson and a receiving trio featuring Patrick, Sutton and Jerry Jeudy at the top of the heap could jell into a dangerous passing attack.

Sutton compiled 1,112 receiving yards as a second-year player in 2019 but then dealt with the injury in 2020 and finished with 776 and a pair of touchdowns last fall. Jeudy had 856 yards as a rookie in 2020 but went without a touchdown and finished with just 467 yards last year. Despite the drop in numbers, Jeudy, the former first-round pick from Alabama, has drawn rave reviews from Hackett and Wilson early in camp.

The group overall certainly has made plays over the first six practices, but also has had moments where the timing lags or where big chunks are difficult to come by against a talented secondary led by second-year corner Pat Surtain II and seventh-year safety Justin Simmons.

Wilson, for example, fired touchdown strikes in the red zone on Wednesday to Sutton and Jeudy back-to-back, but not before missing Sutton twice on short passes and taking two minutes after the period to get extra reps of the timing and footwork in.

Now with Patrick out of the equation for the entire season, the question is just how much receiving depth the Broncos actually have on their roster. Hamler is off the PUP list but hasn’t participated in team drills yet and on Monday said he didn’t know if he would play in the preseason. Rookie Montrell Washington was drafted in the fifth round to be a difference-making return man but has turned heads, including with several plays on Tuesday.

“I don’t think anybody knew for sure where he was going to put himself in the wide receiver rotation and he’s a guy that for sure Russell has latched on to and really tried to push with the rookies being around,” Hackett said. “It is so different coming from where he’s been, but he’s grasped it a lot and he’s made a bunch of good plays around here. … “We’re excited. He’s going to have to step up.”

After that, the competition for roster spots and roles features Kendall Hinton, Travis Fulgham, special teams regular Tyrie Cleveland, undrafted rookie Brandon Johnson and others.

“All of those guys are going to have to rally together,” Hackett said. “That’s part of this game. It’s the worst part of this game is when things like that happen, but it also has to bring your team together.

“You have to show the support and love for the family and we’ve got to find a way to fill that void.”

Follow USA TODAY Sports' Parker Gabriel on Twitter @ParkerJGabriel.