ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Broncos will miss Tim Patrick on multiple levels.
The absence of the fifth-year wide receiver, who on Tuesday suffered a knee injury that is expected to end his season, will leave a hole in Denver's lineup. Over the past two years, no receiver has been more consistent or productive than Patrick, who recorded 11 receiving touchdowns over the past two years.
Patrick has caught more than 50 passes in each of the last two seasons as he's gone over the 730-yard mark — and he's also been reliable. Patrick has appeared in 31 of a possible 33 games and started every game in which he played. He was one of two receivers in 2020 with more than 70 targets and no drops, and he had just three during the 2021 season.
"It's always tough any time you lose anybody that's a part of the team, but definitely a guy like Tim," safety Kareem Jackson said. "He's been a worker for that side of the ball for us for years now. The things he's done these last few years, obviously earning the payday last year — rightfully so, very deserving — it's tough. We can't replace a guy like that when stuff like that happens."
Patrick's injury, though, also means the Broncos will lose one of their emotional leaders. Courtland Sutton called Patrick "a vet that you want to mold your young guys after," and Patrick's standing in the locker room was clear when the entire team gathered around him as he was evaluated after the injury.
"Coaches usually flip [practice] around [after an injury] and keep going," Jackson said. "I think him going down, I think that's the longest I've ever see a practice be held, just for guys to kind of show their support. Tim is a big part of this team, big part of our offense. I tell him all the time: He's the heart and soul of that receiver room. It's definitely tough, and we'll try to rally behind him as much as we can, show as much support as we can and hope for the best."
Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett admitted that he at first planned to flip the field and start running plays in the other direction, but he quickly tossed his play sheet aside to head over to Patrick.
For Sutton and KJ Hamler, who suffered torn ACLs in 2020 and 2021, respectively, it was difficult to watch their teammate go down.
"You always hate to see one of your teammates go down, but to see my brother Tim go down, it hurts," Sutton said. "You see a guy who works his butt off all offseason. His preparation is second to none. He does everything he's supposed to do to be able to put himself in a position to go out and be successful. To see him go down with an injury, it was very unfortunate and we're just praying for the best and continuing to pray for him as we sit and wait."
Added Hamler, who followed Patrick into the Broncos' facility to talk to him: "[Tim] and Court are one of the reasons I got through what I got through. Just having him by my side and them encouraging me and always saying stuff to me and just giving me words of wisdom. Just to see him go down is unexplainable. I caught a flashback as soon as he fell."
WHO STEPS UP?
In Patrick's absence, the Broncos' other receivers will need to make strides.
"A guy like Tim, who's such an amazing leader, who's done everything you asked, it breaks your heart because you love him," Hackett said. "On the flip side, it gives somebody else the opportunity to really grow and become a great player. That's what we're going to need. Whenever you have these things happen, it's about supporting the man, because we are about the entire team, but then at same time, now flipping it out and going, 'Now everybody's got to pick it up and somebody's got to show up.'"
Sutton and Jerry Jeudy will remain the team's top options and will likely need to elevate their level of play. A year ago, Sutton caught 58 passes for 776 yards and two touchdowns in 17 games, while Jeudy hauled in 38 passes for 467 yards and no scores in 10 contests. Denver may need more from both players for their offense to reach its intended heights.
The Broncos' offense should also benefit from KJ Hamler's presence when he makes his return to 11-on-11 work. During his healthy rookie season, he caught 30 passes for 381 yards and three touchdowns as a deep threat.
Then, there's a slew of players competing for an opportunity. Kendall Hinton, Montrell Washington, Kaden Davis, Travis Fulgham, Tyrie Cleveland, Jalen Virgil, Seth Williams, Trey Quinn and Brandon Johnson will all aim to prove they are deserving of a roster spot. In a typical year, a team will keep five or six receivers on its 53-man roster, which means the nine players listed will likely compete for two or three spots.
Hinton and Fulgham have the most regular season experience, as Hinton caught 15 passes for 175 yards and a score last year and Fulgham led the Eagles in receiving in 2020 with 539 yards and four touchdowns. Cleveland, meanwhile, has been tabbed as a core special teamer by Special Teams Coordinator Dwayne Stukes. And, through the early days of camp, Washington has shown promise as a rookie.
"I'm excited to see the tape and get a little better evaluation, but '12' [Washington] made a couple good plays, Jerry did some things," Hackett said of who stepped up after Patrick's injury. "All those guys are going to have to rally together. That's part of this game, and it's the worst part of this game is when things like that happen. But it also has to bring your team together. You have show the support and love for their family because they're part of our family, and we've got to find a way to fill that void."
Sutton said he believes there is an open competition for the final few spots, which will now see increased attention.
"A lot of guys are battling," Sutton said. "A lot of the guys are trying to make that push to get into that space. It's still early into camp. A lot of guys got reps to go out there to get. … It's going to be an opportunity for all those guys to step up and try to make a name for themselves to be able to go out there and give themselves the opportunity to get some more reps."
The competition will be particularly interesting in the coming days, as Hamler has not worked in 11-on-11 drills and Cleveland missed Tuesday's practice with a throat injury. That leaves the Broncos with 10 healthy receivers in camp.