ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Overshadowed by the excitement of the start of training camp has been the absence of one of the Broncos' most important players from the past two seasons.
Two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver
One of Thomas' closest friends on the team is also the player who has stepped into his role through the first two days of practice, seven-year veteran
"I told him I’m there for him if he ever needs anything," Caldwell said Friday. "Somebody to talk to or a shoulder to lean on, I’ll be there for him.
"It’s definitely a bittersweet situation. I definitely didn’t want it to come down to this for me to get in there with the first team."
Despite the circumstances, "Bubba" has stepped in seamlessly with
In Week 1 against the Ravens, Caldwell only saw three offensive snaps, but turned in a 28-yard touchdown catch. A week later, he cashed in on six offensive repetitions for a 36-yard reception against the Giants. When
"I just want to be consistent every day," he said. "Whenever my number’s called, make the play and be one of those dependable guys, one of those guys coaches don’t have to worry about.
"I know my assignments and I know what to do and I make the play.”
In a sport that can produce season-ending injuries at any time, it's difficult to overstate how important that dependability could be. To have the coaches' trust and the ability to play any position makes Caldwell a key part of the offense, even though he won't start any games in 2014 if all goes according to plan.
Among receivers, the team also has promising rookie
"I think I’ve got his trust by now," Caldwell said. "But I just have to stay consistent, keep working with him, keep on getting open and when the ball comes, I’ve got to make the play."
In a few days, Thomas will return to the fold and things will look much like they did last season. But the coaches and Manning can rest easy knowing Caldwell is standing by in case something happens. In the meantime, he might sneak in for a play or two and catch a deep touchdown.