ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- At some point in 2013, you can expect a wide receiver other than Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker to start.
The Broncos only needed three starting wide receivers last year, because Decker, Thomas and Brandon Stokley stayed healthy for the most part; combined, they missed just one game -- when Stokley sat out against Tampa Bay in Week 13. But in each of the previous five seasons, the Broncos started at least four different wide receivers throughout the season, and those starters combined to miss 7.8 games per year to injuries or suspension.
Last year was the exception. The rule is that someone beyond the big three will have to step forward and play extensively. The question is -- who?
It's a question that will remain unanswered for the foreseeable future.
"I think it's too early," said Decker. "We've got a young guys, a lot of young talent that at this stage it's learning the playbook and trying to get comfortable with the system.
"I think the more reps they get, the more experience they have, that will be decided in training camp and we'll see guys progress more at that point."
Thomas and Decker have combined to catch 283 regular-season passes in a Broncos uniform. The rest of the receivers have just three combined receptions with the club. And while no one doubts that Welker will adjust and grab a bushel of passes this season, there are plenty of questions revolving around the reserves.
Trindon Holliday caught two passes last year, but at 5-foot-5 and 170 pounds, he doesn't have the body type to withstand an every-down pounding and is too valuable and explosive on special teams to risk in a more frequent role. Andre Caldwell, who was expected to compete with Stokley for time at the slot spot last year, had a disappointing first year in Denver with just one catch.
Caldwell is easily the most experienced of the reserve wide receivers, having played four years with the Bengals. But his struggles last season raise the obvious question over whether he has already reached his ceiling. Offensive coordinator Adam Gase doesn't believe he has.
"To me he's really stepped up his game and you can see it in our Phase 2 workouts," Gase said this month. "You can tell he's got a little bit of a chip on his shoulder. He's got some hunger about him."
Hunger also exists for Tavarres King, returning practice-squad pass catcher Greg Orton and first-year receiver Gerell Robinson, who head the list of young receivers fighting for playing time, although they don't have any regular-season tape and remain unknown quantities who become more familiar with each practice.
"Those guys know every play that they make, somebody's looking," said offensive coordinator Adam Gase. "So they know that the competition is so tight, that every play those guys make, it could elevate them to maybe that next spot."
As a draft pick, King would seem to have an inherent advantage, given the club's investment in him. All but one of the Broncos' draft picks since John Elway became executive vice president in 2011 are still with the club, and the Broncos have generally erred on the side of patience with their young players, even when their development was not as speedy as hoped.
King has two tasks: learn the playbook and don't get too star-struck about catching passes from Peyton Manning.
"It is insane. I used to play with that guy on Madden," King said upon first arriving in Denver for rookie camp May 11. "It is awesome to have this opportunity just to learn and pick that guy's brain and learn everything that he has to offer from his mind, it's just tremendous."
Robinson was in Broncos training camp last summer before landing with the Cardinals' practice squad last year, and has the advantage of being backup quarterback Brock Osweiler's top target at Arizona State; the two already possess palpable chemistry, and showed it during the only OTA that was open for media viewing last week.
Orton also impressed during that open practice. That might have come as a surprise to some onlookers, but not to Gase, who has monitored his development closely since 2011, when the former Arena Football League standout first joined Denver's practice squad.
"He was having a good camp last year and he got hurt, so I think that little bit of a setback kind of affected him as far as being able to make the (53-man) roster," Gase said. "We get to watch him every day against the defense, and he gets open a lot."
Caldwell. Holliday. King. Orton. Robinson. Learn and remember these names. At some point in 2013, the Broncos' passing game and ability to maintain an electro house-fast tempo may rest on at least one of them.