ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Denver coach Gary Kubiak says that in his 32 years in the NFL he’s never seen this much depth or deftness at wide receiver.
“I’ve said from day one: that really has the chance to be the strength of our team,” Kubiak said Sunday. “It’s going to be really hard to make our team at that position.”
Last year, there were Pro Bowlers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders and not much else, as those two pass catchers accounted for 80 percent of the team’s production at wide receiver.
This year, coaches are excited about the leaps being made by holdovers Bennie Fowler, Jordan Norwood and Cody Latimer, all of whom stepped it up in the playoffs and are now vying for the No. 3 receiver job this summer.
They’re joined by two free agent acquisitions familiar with Kubiak’s system in DeVier Posey and Marlon Brown.
Rounding out the dozen receivers vying for half as many roster spots are four speedy rookies and Peyton Manning’s 6-foot-5, personal practice partner Jordan Taylor, whose sessions with Manning helped the five-time MVP work his way back from a foot injury last year to lead Denver’s Super Bowl run.
Taylor made a catch Friday that was reminiscent of Odell Beckham Jr.’s famous one-handed grab, only Taylor added a somersault to boot.
Still, the most impressive catches of camp so far belong to undrafted rookie Kalif Raymond of Holy Cross, a 5-foot-9 blaze on special teams and blur from scrimmage.
Making it difficult for the Broncos to try to hide them on the practice squad, Raymond and Taylor have spiced up the Super Bowl champs’ training camp, where there is an extraordinary three-way competition unfolding at quarterback.
Even with Sanders and Thomas getting a day off, there was no shortage of crowd-pleasing catches against Denver’s star-studded secondary. The bulk of them belonged to Taylor or Raymond, who helped rookie QB Paxton Lynch have his best day yet as he tries to catch Mark Sanchez and Trevor Siemian.
“This is my dream, so anything I can do to get on that field — receiver, returner, sniper, gunner, anything they need me to do,” Raymond said. “I’ll go out there and snap the ball if they want me to.”
Taylor ran himself ragged last year, playing both receiver and safety on the scout squads after his daily workouts with the meticulous Manning.
“He was probably the most in-shape guy on the team by far,” Tolbert said, adding that Taylor showed growth long before his daily sessions with Manning.
“Most people who are that tall, your footwork is not as crisp, especially coming out of college. So, the one thing I’ve tried to do is work on his footwork and his technique and he’s gotten tons better from the day he got here until now,” Tolbert said. “All the hard work he’s put in is really gratifying.”
Also working in Taylor’s favor is that he’s “sneaky fast,” Tolbert said. “He doesn’t look like he’s moving that much, but he’s gaining ground on you. And his catching radius is 6-8, I’d guess. He has such a huge radius he’s able to adjust his body in the air and make plays on the ball.”
Raymond’s size is a matter of some debate.
Short but stocky, Raymond swears he weighed in Sunday at 181 pounds although he’s still listed at 160.
Not that size matters to Tolbert.
“They can be tall like Jordan or short like Kalif,” Tolbert said. “Now, everybody wants bigger, stronger, faster. But there are some big, strong, fast people sitting at home on the couch because they can’t make plays. So, I just want playmakers.”
Of which, he has no shortage.
Notes: A day after Kubiak said NT Phil Taylor’s knee injury was minor, the Broncos placed him on IR Sunday and signed DE Billy Winn, who played four years in Cleveland and last season in Indianapolis. … C/G Sam Brenner suffered a concussion Sunday, and RB Ronnie Hillman hurt his back. … 10-year-old Grant Thornham attended Sunday’s practice with a bright orange cast on his right arm. He broke it Friday trying to catch one of Brandon McManus’ field goal attempts.
Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton