ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Flash back to the warm days of training camp.
The temperature was in the '70s and '80s, and time and time again, No. 14 made a play that brought oohs and ahhs from the watching media.
Second-round pick Cody Latimer was working primarily with the second team throughout camp — after all, Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Wes Welker and Andre Caldwell sat in front of him — but his dominant physical tools were obvious from the jump.
He gave fellow rookie Bradley Roby — who has acquitted himself quite well as the Broncos' third corner this season — all he could handle in one-on-one sessions. Then there was a deep post in team drills on Day 8 of camp that Latimer pulled in with just his left hand for a long touchdown despite double coverage. And on the second day of joint practices with the Texans, he dropped the jaws of all onlookers when he made a fully extended, right-handed snag behind his head in the back of the end zone, perhaps the play of camp. That remarkable grab was sandwiched by a diving 33-yard touchdown catch against the 49ers and a 57-yard catch-and-run against the Cowboys in the preseason.
But even with the big plays and obvious talent the rookie showed early, don't be surprised that Latimer has been limited to 16 offensive snaps this season. The factors that kept him from running with the first team in training camp haven't changed.
Really, who would you take off the field?
"He's got some pretty good guys in front of him," Head Coach John Fox said Wednesday. "...It's no fault of his. He's working hard, just like everybody out there. It's just a numbers game."
With snow melting at Dove Valley, DeMarcus Ware led the breakdown as the Broncos continued preparation for Sunday's matchup against the Dolphins.
For a player who starred at Indiana and was one of the top wide receivers in the draft, the time on the sideline hasn't been easy. But Latimer said Wednesday that he's found ways to turn it into a positive. For starters, he had more time to completely heal from a broken foot suffered during the draft process, and he's also had the chance to learn more about the NFL game before being counted on in games.
"First I was down about it, like 'Man, why am I not playing?'" Latimer said. "You're used to playing so much, but I took it in a positive way. It's a learning experience for me.
"It just makes it easier on me, so when my time comes I can just go out there and play ball."
Whether or not that time comes this weekend remains to be seen, but after Emmanuel Sanders' concussion against the Rams, it's possible that Latimer could get a longer look against the Dolphins. He described his Week 10 game against the Raiders, when he had 14 snaps and caught his first NFL pass on a screen, as "like getting your feet wet," adding, "hopefully there's more to come."
The rookie receiver ran extra routes with Peyton Manning after practice throughout training camp and says the two have continued to work together to stay on the same page. Latimer described his chemistry with his quarterback as "way better" than it was early in the season, when Latimer says he was "nervous about being out there."
"But now it's more comfortable, it comes easy to me, so I just go out there and line up and play," he said.
"I think he certainly has taken advantage of his time out here at practice," Manning said Wednesday. "...I think Cody has done a good job studying and I know he certainly wants to be out there. He's a competitive guy and I think he's improved throughout the season. "I certainly think if his name and number was called, I think he'd go in there and answer the bell for us."