Receivers Begin Jockeying for Manning’s Attention

“You don’t tell him you’re open,” WR Brandon Stokley said. “You just keep doing the right things and he’ll figure it out.”

Peyton Manning

Peyton Manning gets the offense on the same page. (PHOTO: ANDREW MASON / MAXDENVER.COM)

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – There’s room for more than one pass catcher to receive most-favored nation status in Peyton Manning’s new world order taking root at Dove Valley.

But that doesn’t mean the competition among veteran receivers like Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas, Andre Caldwell, Jason Hill and Matt Willis won’t be fierce. Although Decker has the early inside track based on his work with Manning that began two months ago, all will have their chances in the next few weeks to show their worthiness to the cause.

The early result?

“Well, this was definitely one of the most intense first days of OTAs I’ve had in a while,” said cornerback Champ Bailey. “I mean, it felt good. I love seeing those guys running as hard as they have. I know they’re going to be ready to go.”

Here’s a first hint, though: if you’re getting open and Manning doesn’t find you today, don’t complain.

“You don’t tell him you’re open,” counseled Brandon Stokley, who is back for a second hitch with Manning after playing with him in Indianapolis from 2003-06. “You just keep doing the right things and he’ll figure it out.”

It’s not just what the receivers can do. It’s that Manning makes them look better and gives them a margin for error they didn’t have with Kyle Orton, Tim Tebow and Brady Quinn flinging passes.

“One thing about them is they get open a little bit, they’re open a lot to him,” Bailey said. “That’s one thing that’s a big difference this year.”

Having tight ends become a credible receiving threat is another difference. The Broncos extracted just six touchdowns from their tight ends in the last three seasons, the fewest in the NFL. By comparison, the NFL average in that span is 17.9 touchdowns by tight ends per team, and the Colts had 18 in Manning’s last two seasons as their quarterback (2009-10).

Ex-Colts tight end Jacob Tamme already has timing with Manning, but fellow free agent pickup Joel Dreessen, late of the Texans, is also working on that, as well, and made some nice grabs during Monday’s OTA.

“I think so,” Tamme replied when asked whether the timing was improving for Manning with his new pass-catchers. “It’s been several weeks now of getting the ball thrown around to wide receivers and tight ends and all that kind of stuff. It’s fun to come out here and do it against the defense.”

All the while, they can do so in an environment relatively free of long-term consequence.

“I’ve always believed you develop your timing for your passing game in the offseason, I don’t think you can just show up in September and expect to be on the same page,” Manning said.

“Certainly you do try to get a feel for certain guys. Not everybody is the same. Stokley runs his slot option routes just a little bit different than Decker does. So, that’s what this work is all about, just knowing who’s in there, where to throw it. And Demaryius Thomas gives you more flexibility as far as where you can put the ball because of his size. So, that’s where these repetitions really pay off and you get a real feel for each receiver.”

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About Andrew Mason

Andrew Mason has covered the NFL since 1999, when he worked as an editor on NFL.com when the site was managed by ESPN.com. He worked six seasons (2002-07) covering the Broncos on their official website and two (2008-09) on the Panthers' site. He began MaxDenver.com in 2010 and now contributes to CBSSports.com, The Sporting News and The New York Times.
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