After signing with the Broncos in March, Peyton Manning and wide receiver Eric Decker were able to work on their timing immediately -- and they did, venturing to a local high school for extra work beyond what the collective bargaining agreement permits at the team facility.
Demaryius Thomas couldn't jump in that quickly; he'd just had pins removed from his pinkie finger and wasn't able to catch footballs until April. That put him behind in developing timing with Manning, and with Decker healthy throughout offseason work, Thomas had little chance to catch up until the last two days, when Decker sat out because of a groin strain.
Manning targeted Thomas on half of his first 10 throws against a defense in seven-on-seven and team periods, and Thomas grabbed four of those five passes, only falling short when he was jammed at the line of scrimmage and couldn't run down the pass. At one point, Manning found Thomas on back-to-back throws, one of which saw Thomas follow the catch by re-enacting his wild-card stiff-arm of Pittsburgh's Ike Taylor -- this time on cornerback Tracy Porter.
"Demaryius is a guy that we are going to feature," Manning said. "His size and strength and speed just allows you to do certain things with him that other players just can't do."
There was room for two elite wide receivers in Indianapolis when Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne were at their apex. The Bronocs' hope is that their production can be replicated by Decker and Thomas, two 2010 draft picks who have flashed brilliance but also been hindered by injuries and inconsistency.
But at times there was also a third or fourth key contributor, and the competition there is a little more muddled.
Brandon Stokley has settled back in as Manning's primary slot receiver during training camp, but he's 36 and has a history of nagging injuries, which culminated in his release from the New York Giants with an injury settlement early last season. Andre Caldwell, signed as a free agent from the Bengals in the offseason, can spell Stokley in the slot and has settled in as the fourth option.
The chain reaction of Decker's injury plus the Broncos' emphasis on three- and four-wideout packages Thursday also gave Matt Willis extended first-team repetitions with Manning for the first time since training camp. Willis is Denver's fifth wide receiver, and before Decker's injury, he had taken most of his snaps with backups Adam Weber, Brock Osweiler and Caleb Hanie.
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