ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — ENGLEWOOD – Jeff Heuerman knows what a good, and bad, team looks like.
His Ohio State Buckeyes were 6-7 in his freshman season under Luke Fickell and national champs in his senior year under Urban Meyer.
He was a rookie during the Broncos’ Super 50 championship season under Gary Kubiak in 2015, and he was part of Denver’s combined 11-21 record the past two years under Vance Joseph.
Heuerman is back as the Broncos’ starting tight end after signing a two-year, $8 million contract with a maximum value of $9 million while Vic Fangio is his new head coach.
During a private interview with 9NEWS on Tuesday, Heuerman was asked if the Broncos are playoff team in 2019?
“Yes,’’ he said. “’Write it down. Yes.’’
Heuerman also knows his new quarterback, Joe Flacco, loves to throw to his tight ends. In Flacco’s previous nine healthy seasons in Baltimore, the Ravens’ top tight end averaged 52 catches a season. Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta combined for 94 catches in 2011. Pitta led all NFL tight ends with 86 receptions in 2016.
“I was thinking about this on the way in and I would like Joe to be the last quarterback I play with, but this is not the last contract,’’ Heuerman said. “Hopefully, we can get some good things rolling with him and it’s not just a two-year deal. It would be nice to get this thing rolling for the next four, five, six years.’’
Heuerman also knows his new offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello came from the San Francisco 49ers where George Kittle led all NFL tight ends with 1,377 receiving yards last season.
“One of the first conversations that I had was what Kittle did last year,’’ Heuerman said. “Obviously, you look at Joe over the years and the tight ends he’s had and what they’ve done. Definitely looked at all of that.”
Heuerman was on his way to a 45-catch season last year until he suffered broken ribs and a bruised lung while taking a hit in the Broncos’ 11th game. He missed the rest of the season.
If Heuerman is to ever reach his potential, he has to stay healthy. It’s not that he hasn’t tried to avoid injuries. His problems started with the second day of his rookie minicamp when he suffered a season-ending torn ACL.
He then battled soft-tissue problems, which are common residuals to ACL injuries, and last year he took an unavoidable blow to the ribs. Has he talked to Broncos’ long-time trainer Steve “Greek” Antonopulos, head trainer Vince Garcia and strength and conditioning coach Loren Landow about new ideas or workout programs that could possibly increase his chances of staying healthy?
“I’m going into Year 5, you don’t think we haven’t had those conversations?’’ Heuerman said with a smile during his contract signing press conference Tuesday. “Look, you can know that I do everything in my power to be out there on the field playing. That’s all I can do. I do that. I have that mindset every single day. I have a very good relationship with Loren and the trainers. They know how I am, and they know that I would literally do anything to stay healthy and do anything I needed to do to keep my body where it needs to be.”
Bronco fans, especially those who play in fantasy leagues, know of Heuerman’s dramatic improvement as a pass catcher last year. His 31 catches in 11 games were nearly three and a half times greater than his previous career total of 9. But few may understand how far Heuerman’s blocking has come along.
“Fantasy guys don’t like tight ends that block,’’ he said, again with a smile. “I like to take pride in being an every-down tight end. Not come off the field in certain situations.
“Some of our young backs, it’s fun blocking for them. You see Phillip (Lindsay) and you’re blocking and you see him break free and watching him from behind – it’s fun. It gives you a good feeling like your block did something.’’
Heuerman is more giving of himself off the field, too. He married his longtime sweetheart Hannah May on Feb. 16 at Spruce Mountain Ranch in Larkspur (same place that Broncos’ public relations assistant Seth Medvin got married last summer).
“I’m learning the whole, ‘happy wife, happy life,’’’ Heuerman said. “I’ve still got a lot to learn. We’ve made it just over a month and it’s awesome. She’s amazing. She’s been the rock through this whole thing, free agency and all the questions.’’
New head coach, new quarterback, new tax filing status and a higher tax bracket. Jeff Heuerman is having a year and the Broncos don’t report for conditioning until April 1.