ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — When he was quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts, Peyton Manning was surrounded by standout receivers — sure-handed players such as Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark and Pierre Garcon.
But how much of that was Manning turning those players into stars with his pinpoint targeting?
"I think it was a combination," said John Elway, Denver's executive vice president of football operations. "They got so good because of the years that they had together and the feel that they had in certain situations. It was a feel during the game and they'd all react because they'd been together for so long."
The question is relevant now, because Denver has a crop of lesser-known receivers who could wind up becoming household names with Manning at quarterback. Many were on the Broncos' 31st-ranked passing offense last season — with Kyle Orton and then Tim Tebow at the helm.
"The receivers that we have here are young, but they're bigger and more athletic than [Manning] had in Indianapolis," Elway said. "That's not to say they're better, but they're just bigger."
Eric Decker, for instance, led the Broncos with a modest 44 receptions in 2011, with all but 11 in the first half of the season.
Also back is Demaryius Thomas, a first-round pick in 2010, who has been impressive at times — including his 80-yard touchdown on the first play of overtime in a playoff victory over Pittsburgh — but more often has been sidelined by injuries.
Andre Caldwell is new to Denver, and got a cheer from the crowd when he caught a deep ball from Manning on Thursday. Brandon Stokley isn't new to Denver, where he played from 2007-09, or new to Manning, his close friend and former road roommate in Indianapolis.
Stokley said he's ready to take advantage of this reunion with Manning.
"I think you realize that your opportunities are dwindling each year," said the 36-year-old receiver. "This is probably it for me. If this doesn't work out, I don't know if there's going to be another opportunity. So, yeah, you're definitely hungry to go out and prove yourself."