ENGLEWOOD – Prima donna wide receivers are all the rage in today’s air-it-out NFL, demanding passes and attention, preening for cameras and crowds.
Not in Denver.
Led by the shy Demaryius Thomas, the soft-spoken Wes Welker and the selfless Eric Decker, the Broncos represent the antithesis of those high-maintenance superstars who always are going back to the huddle telling the quarterback they were open on that previous play.
The addition of Welker this offseason gives the Broncos a trio that combined for 297 receptions and 29 touchdown catches last season.
The Three Amigos back in John Elway’s playing days were Vance Johnson, Mark Jackson and Ricky Nattiel.
This current trio only has one thing it wants to get its hands on: a third Lombardi Trophy for Elway, now the team’s executive vice president.
Rather than demanding to be featured, they all say they won’t mind catching fewer footballs in 2013.
Peyton Manning might just have the best threesome of ball catchers in the NFL. One thing’s for sure: He definitely has the quietest group of targets.
“Being the wide receiver coach here for two years, I was with Eric and Demaryius as rookies, and I’ve never been around in my short career two guys that were so unselfish,” new offensive coordinator Adam Gase said Wednesday. “And adding Wes to that group, it even amps it up.
“Nobody talks about how many balls am I going to get? How many touchdowns? You don’t have to worry about it. It’s, ‘OK, here’s the best matchup for this game, and that’s what we’re going to expose.’”
The Broncos’ biggest issue on offense this season will be spreading around the ball. In addition to their featured wide receivers and big tight ends, there’s a deep group of pass-catchers vying for roster spots and whatever scraps remain.
That group includes fifth-round draft pick Tavarres King, up-and-comers Greg Orton and Gerell Robinson, speedsters Trindon Holliday and Quincy McDuffie, and holdover burner Andre Caldwell.
“Arguably, we have the best receiver corps in the NFL right now,” running back Ronnie Hillman said. “It’s going to be a nightmare for a lot of people come September.”
It’ll certainly keep defensive coordinators up late.
Welker, who averaged 112 catches during his six seasons in New England, joins one of the league’s top tandems in Decker and Thomas, who combined for 179 receptions and 23 touchdowns last season.
Welker knows he won’t be the “featured” guy like he was in New England in recent seasons as the Patriots turned their focus to the slot/tight end targets for Tom Brady rather than outside receivers.
“We’ve got a lot of talent. We’ve got a lot of good players,” Welker said. “With Decker and D.T. and the tight ends, across the board we have good players.”
Welker said he doesn’t expect to catch 118 passes this season like he did last year. Thomas (94 catches) and Decker (85) figure their touches will diminish, too.
And they’re all OK with that.
“These guys are all about winning,” Gase said. “We keep talking about the same thing: Our goal is to get to the last game and win it. And that’s what these guys are focused on. The amount of catches they get during a season? Those guys don’t talk about stuff like that. They just want to win.”
Gase said they never even complained when the Broncos turned to the read-option under Tim Tebow two years ago, and Thomas confirmed none of the receivers ever talk about the number of catches they get.
“Whenever I get the ball in my hands, I’m going to make the best of it,” Thomas said.
Decker said the up-tempo offense that Gase is installing should mean they “get more plays in” to offset any drop-off individually. But he’s not really concerned with any of that, either.
“Ultimately, there may be some passes or targets that are taken away, but in the grand scheme of things it’s about winning football games. I want to get to the world championship. I want to have a ring on my finger,” Decker said. “If that’s the case – if I lose some catches, if I lose some yards – it really isn’t a big deal to me personally because of what our ultimate goal is here.”
The wide receivers are one reason the Broncos are considered Super Bowl favorites by so many. Another reason is that they’re stacked at cornerback with Champ Bailey, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Chris Harris, Tony Carter, Omar Bolden and Kayvon Webster – and these two groups facing each other every day in practice only augments that strength.
“They’ve got a lot of corners over there that can make us better every day,” Thomas said.
Manning was glad for the start this week of organized team activities – 10 shorts-and-helmets practices over the next three weeks – so that he and Welker can start working on their chemistry in earnest.
“I can just speak for what he’s done in New England. He’s just been an extremely difficult guy to cover one on one, and then you can tell by watching him on film he’s an extremely smart player. He has an excellent feel for zone coverage,” Manning said.
“This is just the beginning stages of him getting comfortable in this offense and he and I getting on the same page. We put a lot of time in together as individuals but just versus air. We spent a lot of time talking, as well. Now that we’re going against the defense, we’ll continue to learn, and there will be some things we have to work through, but that’s what OTAs and training camp is for.”
Bailey said he’s already seen improvements in Decker and Thomas from their breakout 2012 season.
“These two guys, I’ve seen them grow so much in this game,” Bailey said. “And you think they can’t get better; they’ve even gotten better this year. It just seems like the chemistry with Peyton is a lot better, as well.”
With Manning spreading the ball around, Broncos receivers can’t set individual goals as far as receptions and yards.
“It’s tough,” Thomas said. “Because you never know who’s going to be the guy. So, it’s hard to set goals. You basically just go out, work hard every day, and hopefully whenever you get your chances, you make plays, and it just works out.”