ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Consider it a word association of sorts, but mention the Denver Broncos’ wide receivers and the response in training camp’s early going might simply be “crowded.’’
The Broncos have not yet named a starting quarterback with a heated competition going on, but it's really the guys Mark Sanchez, Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch are throwing to these days who have one of the tightest races for coveted roster spots.
“They are all making plays,’’ Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said. “It’s extremely competitive, and that’s a good thing for us. It’s a good group. It’s a good, strong group.’’
The starting spots are not in question, not with Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders healthy and showing their 1,000-yard form no matter which quarterback is throwing the ball. The line forms after them, however, as a tightly bunched mixture of young prospects and veteran players are battling for what could be as few as three additional spots on the depth chart.
The Broncos kept six wide receivers last season, but this year they almost certainly will carry a full-time fullback in rookie Andy Janovich. They also likely will have a combination running back/fullback on the roster in Juwan Thompson.
Both of those players have a full slate of special-teams duties, which makes them both versatile and valuable when the roster is cut to 53. And the Broncos may also have to keep an extra offensive linemen if their streak of injuries early on in camp doesn’t improve.
“The guys in the front office definitely have a tough decision to make in terms of who they're going to keep out here because every guy has been making a lot of plays,’’ Sanders said. “It's a good thing. It's not a bad thing. It's a very positive thing that we have so much depth that they have to make a tough decision, because I feel like the wide receiver core can be the central point of this offense and of this team.’’
Then you have Bennie Fowler, who has gone from the Broncos’ practice squad in 2014 to the guy who looks like the solid No. 3 receiver on the defending Super Bowl champions.
And Cody Latimer, the Broncos’ second-round pick in the 2014 draft, has crossed some football valleys and has slowly started to show the potential the Broncos believe he has always had. He has battled confidence issues at times, struggled with some assignments and arrived to his third season with eight career catches. But Latimer has also, in his struggle to carve out some playing time on offense, made himself into one of the best special teams players on the roster.
“Cody is in great condition,’’ Kubiak said. “He can run all day, so you see him show up. The longer practices go, he tends to keep making plays. It’s important to him. You can see it. It’s a big year for him. We all know that. I think he’s pushing really hard and doing a good job.’’
“There's more pressure from myself,’’ Latimer said. “It's more of a pride thing for me. I just have to block out what the outside says, what everybody else says. It's more about -- for my family and myself -- I know that I need to step up and do something finally. Like I said, it's more of a pride thing for myself.’’
Add it up and the remainder of the wide receiver group could be scrapping for one spot. Jordan Norwood, Jordan Taylor, Kalif Raymond, DeVier Posey, Bralon Addison and Mose Frazier all have had their practice moments. Taylor's sick one-handed-then-somersault catch may have been the highest degree of difficulty so far. And special teams will matter as players such as Norwood, Raymond and Addison are heavy in the rotation at returner. One of them could force the Broncos to keep a sixth wide receiver who is also the primary returner.
And they’re all doing it as the Broncos continue to rotate quarterbacks, so chemistry at times has been elusive.
“They’re all working … all the guys are stepping up,’’ Sanders said. “Just to see those guys go out and make plays, I think that's going to be very pivotal. It takes a lot of pressure away from me and (Thomas), so those guys are continuously getting better, and that's what it's about.’’