Bron­cos’ other bat­tle: No. 3 wide re­ceiver

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Nicki Jhab­vala

Every­one wants to talk about the quar­ter­backs. With good rea­son, of course. But Em­manuel San­ders has been through this for two years now, and with ev­ery pub­lic ap­pear­ance comes a ques­tion — or two or three, maybe four — about the quar­ter­backs and which one will start in Week 1. Been there. Heard that. San­ders, half of the Bron­cos’ star wide re­ceiv­ing duo with De­mary­ius Thomas, knows the rou­tine. But lost in the quar­ter­back chat­ter is a brew­ing bat­tle close to home.

De­spite Den­ver’s gen­eral of­fen­sive strug­gles the past two sea­sons, Thomas and San­ders have each mus­tered more than 1,000 re­ceiv­ing yards in 2015 and 2016, along with at least five re­ceiv­ing touch­downs. They’ve been la­beled 1A and 1B on the re­ceiv­ing depth chart and were self-ti­tled Bat­man and Robin.

If Thomas and San­ders are coNo. 1s, who is No. 3 among the nine other re­ceivers on the Bron­cos’ ros­ter?

“That’s a full room. Be­tween ‘88’ (Thomas), ‘10’ (San­ders) , ‘14’ ( Cody La­timer) and (Ben­nie) Fowler, plus those two young kids, that’s a full room,” coach Vance Joseph said. “It’s go­ing to be a tough de­ci­sion in terms of who makes our foot­ball team, but that’s the way it should be.”

For a year and a half now, the Bron­cos have boasted a lengthy list of re­ceivers but no clear third re­ceiver, no re­li­able pass catcher be­hind their Pro Bowl duo. With a new coach­ing staff and a new of­fense, the em­pha­sis this off­sea­son has turned to find speed and power and ver­sa­til­ity across the board on of­fense.

En­ter rook­ies Car­los Hen­der­son and Isa­iah McKenzie, drafted in the third and fifth rounds, re­spec­tively, who boast quick­ness and smarts but also are raw.

“If you were out there at prac­tice the past cou­ple days, you could see the play­mak­ing abil­ity that they have. They’re ex­plo­sive play­ers,” of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Mike McCoy said dur­ing or­ga­nized team ac­tiv­i­ties. “The most im­por­tant thing right now — and it’s re­ally the whole en­tire of­fense — is put your­self in a po­si­tion come train­ing camp to win a spot on the foot­ball team. Don’t worry about any­body else; just take care of your own job.”

The ar­rivals of Hen­der­son and McKenzie and the re­turn of Mar­lon Brown are boosts to McCoy’s

of­fense. But they were also nudges for the two play­ers who again fig­ure to lead the way for the No. 3 spot.

La­timer, who en­ters the fi­nal year of his rookie con­tract, has to­taled 16 catches for 158 yards and one touch­down in his three years in Den­ver.

Fowler, who suf­fered an el­bow in­jury in pre­sea­son last year, failed to fol­low his break­out year of 2015. He recorded 11 catches for 145 yards, but mis­cues — in­clud­ing a crit­i­cal drop in the end zone at Ten­nessee — over­shad­owed his pair of touch­downs and big catches.

For both — and for the seven other re­ceivers — the time is now.

“I know Ben­nie is hun­gry. I’ve been watch­ing his Snapchats and In­sta­gram, and he’s work­ing out. Cody’s been work­ing out since the end of the last sea­son,” San­ders said at his an­nual ProCamp on Tues­day at North­glenn High School. “You see Car­los and Isa­iah and all those guys, Jor­dan (Tay­lor), ev­ery sin­gle one of the re­ceivers, Mar­lon (Brown) — those guys are work­ing. They want it.

“Ev­ery­body is just for that op­por­tu­nity to take ad­van­tage of it. I see a whole bunch of hard­work­ing guys who un­der­stand that the mind-set is not make the play­offs; the mind-set is to bring a cham­pi­onship to Den­ver. That’s why I love this wide re­ceiver group.”

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