Wednesday, July 16, 2014
Countdown to camp: Wide receivers
By Jeff Legwold
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Former Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey said the most difficult wide receiver corps to handle are those with the ability to move players around to go with that "no-doubt No. 1 guy."
The Broncos have that. The team’s football brain trust has given quarterback Peyton Manning plenty to work with, starting with that no-doubt No. 1 guy in Demaryius Thomas. Thomas leads a group that gives the Broncos versatility in their passing game to go with the ability to win one-on-one matchups all over the field.
If things go how the Broncos hope this season, folks could be hard pressed to find a better gathering, top to bottom on the positional depth chart, than the one in Denver.
As the days wind down before training camp opens, we continue our position-by-position look at where things stand with the team.
Today: Wide receivers
The Broncos bolstered their receiver corps this offseason by signing Emmanuel Sanders to a three-year deal.
How many coming to camp? 11
How many will the Broncos keep? The Broncos have been consistent in this spot during the John Elway/John Fox era. They have had five after the roster cuts to 53 each of the past three seasons.
Though last year’s five may need some kind of asterisk since the fifth player at the position was returner Trindon Holliday. It was largely a four-player affair as Holliday played just four snaps on offense last season and finished the year with one rushing attempt for 7 yards.
This time around the Broncos can get to five receivers with players who each have capabilities and expectations to play regularly in the rotation on offense given the attention the position received in the offseason. Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and free-agent signee Emmanuel Sanders will be the top three.
The Broncos re-signed Andre Caldwell just before the start of free agency and then used a second-round pick on Cody Latimer. Latimer, who is on schedule to be ready for the regular-season opener after fracturing a bone in his foot in a pre-draft workout in January, is squarely in the team's plans and Manning has already shown he has no qualms about throwing Caldwell the ball.
Latimer, in particular, was limited in the organized team activities (OTAs) as well as minicamp as he recovered, but he did offer glimpses of how adept he is at winning the ball in contested situations.
The question becomes whether the Broncos will keep a sixth receiver or a player at another position to be a returner. Undrafted rookie Isaiah Burse has potential but will have to show some significant pop in the preseason games to get the job.
Sanders can do it, but considering he's expected to play significant snaps on offense, the Broncos would prefer not to use him in that role, especially on kickoff returns. Ditto for Welker, who has fielded plenty of punts in his time in the league, but now carries some concerns over previous concussions.
Break it down: The defense got plenty of attention during the Broncos' free-agent signing binge with the additions of DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward. But one of the team's best free-agent signings might be Sanders.
The Broncos get a fast-twitch receiver who makes defenders miss once he has the ball. He can play outside or in the slot in a creative three-wide-receiver look. Sanders gets the opportunity to show what he can do in an offense that was the highest scoring in league history last season.
Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase has big plans for Sanders and there is plenty of draw-it-up potential to work the middle of the field with players like Sanders, Welker and tight end Julius Thomas working out of the slot. Sanders gets himself away from bump coverage well and the Broncos, after getting pushed around at times at the line of scrimmage last season by some of the more aggressive secondaries, want to make teams pay more for pressing the issue this time around.