Devontae Booker 'more ready' this time to compete for No. 1 RB spot

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Looking back on it, Devontae Booker would like to turn rookie moments into much more.

Coming off a knee injury in his final season at Utah and heading into a full NFL calendar made for a tough transition into his rookie season with the Denver Broncos. He showed plenty of potential while rushing for 612 yards in 2016 but looked weary during the trek to the finish.

"You push through it. Everybody has to push through it," Booker said. "... You learn it's different than college, a lot different. In college you're winding down when things really get going [in the NFL]. You see good teams and good players start strong, finish strong."

Last season, Booker got what every NFL rookie wants: premium playing time. Because of C.J. Anderson's knee injury in late October, Booker found himself in the role of lead back eight games into the season.

However, he still was less than a year removed from two knee surgeries and poised to battle the dreaded rookie wall that routinely arrives after Thanksgiving. After Anderson's season-ending injury against the Houston Texans (Oct. 24), Booker had at least 18 carries in four of the next five games.

In those four games, he averaged 2.8, 3.2, 3.3 and 1.9 yards per carry as the Broncos struggled to run the ball. Until the Broncos' season finale -- a win against the Oakland Raiders in which he rushed for 57 yards on 14 carries -- Booker spent much of the post-Halloween portion of the season looking fatigued and slightly out of sorts.

"I think everybody's fatigued," Booker said. "As a pro, you have to push through it. That's part of it ... But I feel more ready this time."

Booker, a fourth-round pick in 2016, said he "worked my butt off" to be prepared for what's to come this fall. He has the power of knowledge in terms of how he felt last season and what he thought needed to be done to get ready for this one.

His left knee feels "100 percent" after two surgeries as a result of an injury he suffered in his final season at Utah. He had surgery in November 2015 to repair the meniscus in the knee and then another in February 2016 when he was still having pain and swelling.

Although he did play in 16 games last season, he feels like he is better equipped to show what he can do this year. He'll need to be because one of the items on the Broncos' offseason checklist appears to have been to make the backfield as crowded as possible.

They signed Jamaal Charles, a four-time Pro Bowler, to a one-year deal. The Broncos believe Charles' knees will hold up enough for situational work. Denver used a sixth-round pick on De'Angelo Henderson, whose 4.48 time in the 40-yard dash made him one of the fastest running backs at the scouting combine. Anderson spent much of the offseason program as the No. 1 back, and Juwan Thompson and Bernard Pierce are also in the mix.

"[Booker] wants to be the guy," Broncos coach Vance Joseph said during the offseason program. "Again, it's going to take two or three guys at that spot to make it a complete unit in my opinion. He wants to be the guy ... He finished last year, in my opinion, on a positive note."

Booker showed the Broncos coaches enough during offseason work that he is expected to get a look with the starters early in training camp. He has said that he expects to return for camp next week with a far better understanding of what is expected of him.

"I just think it's way different," Booker said. "Before, I felt like I was nervous, just thinking about my assignments, the offense, all of that ... I've told guys my head was spinning all over. I just feel more ready to get to work. It's that thing where the game gets slower and you can play faster, if you know what I mean."