ENGLEWOOD, Colo—Denver Broncos Pro Bowl wide receiver Demaryius Thomas has been a no-show for team offseason conditioning and training activities, ever since the franchise tag was applied to him back in March. The Broncos opened their mandatory veteran mini-camp today, and speculation was running rampant leading up to it on whether Thomas would attend.
He has chosen to continue his hold-out, hoping to negotiate a long-term contract before the July 15th deadline. In the meantime, Thomas’ absence has provided opportunities for other guys further down the depth chart to get more reps. The guy who has benefited most from Thomas’ absence is second-year wideout, Cody Latimer.
The Broncos selected Latimer in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft—a class that has already turned out to have historic production, with the likes of Odell Beckham, Jr., Sammy Watkins, Kelvin Benjamin, Brandin Cooks, Mike Evans, Martavis Bryant and John Brown tearing it up on the grid-iron.
Although Latimer was a member of the same draft class, he did not see the field, like many of his rookie wideout brethren. As Emmanuel Sanders pointed out in April, Latimer has taken notice of all of the attention his 2014 classmates have received and is using it as fuel to motivate and push him in his second season.
“I think Cody is ready,” Sanders said. “You talk about a guy that came out with a rookie class last year, which is one of the best rookie classes of all time and they’re not even mentioning his name. I think that he is just feeding off that energy alone. I think that he has all the capabilities of the rest of the rookies he came out with. You talk about a guy that was a second-round pick. I think that he’s ready for his opportunity and I think he’s going to make the most of it.”
Latimer’s inactivity and lack of production as a rookie was due in large part to a stacked receiver depth chart in Denver and also because his head coach, John Fox, had a penchant for favoring veterans with playing time. However, there’s a new head coach in town, Gary Kubiak, and he isn’t as reticent to put faith in young, inexperienced players. He fully expects Latimer to turn the corner in 2015.
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“A lot of times being a rookie can be overwhelming,” Kubiak said back in March. “I think as the year went on he just showed that he’s got a lot of skill. I think it’s time for him to make a big jump, not just a little jump.”
With the Broncos deciding to move on from the 34-year-old Wes Welker, and Thomas’ absence, Cody Latimer has the opportunity to make a phenomenal impression on his new coaches. At 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, he has the skill-set to be a No. 1 receiver in the NFL.
Hi size and speed combo can be a weapon under Peyton Manning. He can use his size to box out defenders and catch contested passes and he has the speed and playmaking ability to gash the opposition after the catch.
Also, with Kubiak’s run-first approach on offense, Latimer can be a major asset. He’s an excellent blocker and has the physicality to seek-and-destroy in run blocking. There has been a lot of praise for Latimer originating out of Dove Valley this offseason.
He's getting the opportunity to run with the first-team offense and not only build rapport with Manning, but perhaps more importantly, learn Kubiak's offense. Thomas will be behind the 8-ball in this department when he returns.
Following practice today, Kubiak said that the wide receiver group faces the stiffest task, when it comes to learning the intricacies of his new offense.
"Probably the toughest spot has been receiver," Kubiak said. "There's a lot of the huddle talk Emmanuel and those guys are having to get used to ...probably, they've had the biggest adjustment."
I get a lot of questions about Latimer and here's the bottom line: Demaryius Thomas is holding out and doing what’s best for him, but if he’s not careful, he might return to the team in July and find that the Broncos are getting along just fine without him.