ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --Broncos wide receivers have a lot to be excited about.
The addition of quarterback Peyton Manning has brought a whole new mentality to the wide receivers as they enter training camp. Every time they hit the practice fields, the receivers know they will gain a better understanding of the game and a more defined skill set.
"They're hungry for knowledge," Wide Receivers Coach Tyke Tolbert said. "Them having success with Peyton early on in OTAs, that's making them want to come in and look at more stuff and ask more questions and become even more successful."
With the team's leading receivers from 2011 – Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker – entering their third year in the league, Tolbert said his guys know how much they can learn from the future Hall of Famer and 15th-year vet. The quarterback's attention to detail is contagious.
"I see the receivers, when Peyton says something, it's full attention," Tolbert said. "They try to do things exactly how he wants them done. Especially with the plays that we install, they have more of a want to go out there, as opposed to a feeling of 'I have to go to practice.'"
Thomas and Decker each improved from their rookie season to 2011 in a run-heavy offense that set the franchise record for rushing yards in a season. As the duo will look to make another stride forward in the 2012 season, they will do it together – just like everything else.
"We came in together, we worked out together, we have the same agent," Thomas said. "We're all tied together, me and Decker. We stayed together at a house for a year and we came up with this little thing when we were in rookie symposium before we came here. He was No. 87 and I was No. 88 and we came up with 'Salt 'n Pepper Time.' We're looking forward to that. Both of us have been through our injuries up and down and now we're both healthy, so we're looking forward to it."
Tolbert loves the progress the two receivers are continuing to make.
"I'm very pleased with where they are at this point in time," Tolbert said. "Going into their third season, they've seen some things that are going to help them be able to grow. They take coaching very well and they try to do everything that you ask them to do. When they do that and have success, that permeates them wanting to learn even more, be it from me, be it from (Offensive Coordinator) Mike McCoy, be it from Peyton, it doesn't really matter."
By no means, however, are Thomas and Decker the only receivers who will pose a threat to defenses in 2012. In fact, Tolbert said that one of the things that makes his group so dangerous is the versatility among its members.
As far as deep threats, the Broncos boast the 6'3", 229-pound Thomas, who outran the entire Steelers' secondary on a game-winning 80-yard touchdown in last year's Wild Card Round. Then there is Decker, who led the team with four touchdown catches of more than 25 yards and two of more than 50 yards. Providing another down-the-field option this season is Andre Caldwell, who signed with the team as a free agent.
"His addition to our receiving core has helped us tremendously," Tolbert said of Caldwell. "Believe it or not, he's the fastest guy out there. He can really run and he's made a lot of plays this spring. One of the things we targeted in the offseason is we wanted to get a third guy who had some pretty good size but was really fast, who could make plays. We think we have that in 'Bubba' Caldwell."
Also joining the group this year is 14th-year veteran Brandon Stokley, who has already established a strong rapport with Manning. As an Indianapolis Colt from 2003 to 2006, Manning and Stokley connected 139 times including 15 touchdowns.
"Stokley is able to tell a guy this or tell a guy that and help him out," Tolbert said. "He's been great for the room. We're excited to have him and he's a reliable guy, a very smart guy."
Tolbert also praised the leadership and aptitude of fifth-year receiver Matthew Willis, who tends to fly under the radar at times.
"Willis is a guy that nobody talks about a lot," he said. "But Matt is a leader in that room as well. When he says stuff, people listen as well. He goes by example. He's always back there helping the young guys. He's one of the smartest guys that I've ever been around, as far as knowing all the positions. So I'm very pleased with him from a leadership standpoint."
Expectations for a new-look offense are higher than the elevation in Broncos Country. Heading into training camp, the receivers know those expectations can be realized if the work is put in.
"It's the little things – the extra time you spend with the coaches watching film or with the quarterbacks," Decker said. "I feel like that's helped me and my biggest thing is just being healthy. I feel like all of that is just going to add up together and I feel like it's going to be one of my best years."
MEET THE WIDE RECEIVERS
Andre Caldwell –Acquired during the offseason via free agency, "Bubba" Caldwell is a fifth-year wide receiver in his first year with Denver. He played 51 games and totaled 124 receptions for 1,172 yards with six touchdowns in his first four NFL seasons, all with the Bengals.
Eric Decker –Selected by the Broncos in the fifth round of the 2010 NFL draft, Decker led the Broncos in receptions (44) and receiving yards (612) in his first year as a starter in 2011 while totaling the second most receiving touchdowns (8) in team history by a player in his first or second season. Decker wears No. 87 for three reasons: He admires former Broncos wide receiver Eddie McCaffrey who wore the number; he was the 87th overall player selected in the 2010 NFL Draft; and he was born in '87.
Mark Dell –Dell is an undrafted second-year player who spent his rookie season on injured reserve after hurting his knee during training camp. He played 47 games at Michigan State University and finished his career ranked sixth in school history in receiving yards (2,136) and seventh in receptions (133).
D'Andre Goodwin –Goodwin is a second-year wide receiver who spent the majority of his rookie season in 2011 on the Broncos' practice squad before being elevated to the active roster for the team's Divisional Playoff Game at New England.
Tyler Grisham –The former Clemson Tiger began his NFL career with the Pittsburgh Steelers as an undrafted free agent in 2009. He played four games with the Steelers as a rookie and made one catch for fourteen yards before spending the next two years on their practice squad. He joined the Broncos as a future-contract signee on Jan. 16, 2012.
Jason Hill –Hill is a sixth-year wide receiver in his first year with Denver. He totaled 76 receptions for 1,028 yards with eight touchdowns during his first five seasons with San Francisco and Jacksonville.
Greg Orton –A first-year wide receiver from Purdue University, Orton spent the final five weeks of the 2011 regular season on the Broncos' practice squad after competing with the team during training camp.
Eric Page –An undrafted rookie from the University of Toledo, Page caught 304 passes for 3,276 yards with 25 touchdowns during his three-year career with the Rockets to pace the school in all three categories during each season. He earned All-Conference honors at three positions: wide receiver, punt returner and kick returner.
Gerell Robinson –An undrafted rookie from Arizona State, Robinson teamed with Broncos second-round draft choice Brock Osweiler as a senior to catch 77 passes for 1,397 yards with seven touchdowns to set career highs.
Brandon Stokley –The team's most experienced receiver, Stokley returns Denver where he also spent the 2007-2009 seasons. During his 13-year career, he has established himself as one of the most effective slot wide receivers in the NFL during his career with the N.Y. Giants (2011), Seattle (2010), Denver (2007-09), Indianapolis (2003-06) and Baltimore (1999-2002).
Demaryius Thomas –The third-year receiver led the Broncos in receiving yards in each of his final seven contests, including the postseason, in 2011 to set a franchise record. He also fueled Denver's 29-23 win against Pittsburgh in the AFC Wild Card round with his four-catch, 204-yard performance that included an 80-yard game-winning touchdown reception on the first play of overtime.
Matthew Willis –Willis is a fifth-year wide receiver who has appeared in 28 regular-season games and two playoff contests during his NFL career with Denver (2008-11) and Baltimore (2007-08). He saw action in all 16 games for the Broncos in 2011 and ranked fourth on the team with 267 receiving yards on 18 catches with one touchdown.