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Broncos’ roster buoyed by low-round gems

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — If there has been a pattern to the Broncos’ recent player development history, it is that they have found low-round and undrafted gems who have made up for the struggles of early-round picks.

In 2012, the Broncos picked Derek Wolfe in the second round. He has started, but has been inconsistent and is now serving a four-game suspension. But the Broncos picked Malik Jackson three rounds later, and he has emerged as one of the league’s best pass-rushing three-technique defensive ends.

A year later, the Broncos selected running back Montee Ball in the second round. After two years of inconsistent play and injuries, he was waived this year — in part because C.J. Anderson, an undrafted rookie in 2013, emerged as a Pro Bowler after getting a chance to start in the second half of the 2014 season.

The pattern could be repeating itself with wide receiver Cody Latimer and Bennie Fowler. Latimer, a second-round pick last year, has struggled to get on the field, and failed to capitalize on the first-team repetitions he had in the offseason. By last Sunday at Detroit, he wasn’t on the field for any offensive snaps.

Fowler, on the other hand, played 18 snaps and racked up 50 yards on four receptions — two more than Latimer has had in the regular season so far in his career.

“It speaks to him,” Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning said of Fowler. “Obviously, he put a big impression on the coaches with training camp and limited reps for them to put him in there. Throwing to him five times tells you the confidence that I have in him.”

By comparison, Manning has thrown to Latimer just three times in the regular season since he was drafted.

With Jordan Norwood and Andre Caldwell also receiving time ahead of Latimer, it’s clear that the second-round pick last year now sits behind five other receivers. But in Fowler’s corner, he has earned it. He made some spectacular catches in training camp and the preseason and has carried that forward.

“What’s unique about Bennie is that he can catch the deep ball on the outside, he’s got the speed to run it, but he’s fearless across the middle,” Manning said. “That’s a pretty good combination, so I think you’ll continue to see him to be involved in this offense.”

— Despite playing with two screws — including one that is now broken — in his surgically repaired foot, inside linebacker Brandon Marshall has pressed on through the pain and become the Broncos’ leading tackler through two weeks.

Having the screws removed during the season is not an option for Marshall, even though they have done their job in stabilizing his foot as it healed. If he underwent surgery now, he would miss the next eight weeks.

So Marshall will continue to persist through the pain. But he feels it will get easier over time.

“The first two games, my foot was hurting pretty bad. Last game was a lot better. I’m so thankful for it because I think as the season goes on, I think I’ll just get better.”

Despite the pain, Marshall came up with a sack and a game-winning forced fumble from Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles in the first two weeks.

Marshall said by last Sunday in Detroit, he “didn’t really” feel pain in his foot.

“I just want to keep that up,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll be good in a couple of weeks.”

BY THE NUMBERS: 507 – Yardage for Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, who have combined for two-thirds of the Broncos’ passing yardage so far this season. Despite the struggles of the offense, both are on pace for more than 1,250 receiving yards apiece.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “You guys are getting so desperate here. I had like these big throws and it almost reminds me of the Bad News Bears when Buttermaker was trying to encourage his team when they’re really bad.

“He asked whoever kept the stats — I can’t remember if it was Rudi or whatever — he said, ‘Come on guys, get me the stats. Look on the bright side. Two of our runners have almost reached first base and we did hit 17 foul balls. That’s the spirit.’ Well, two good throws in there. I’ll take it.” — Quarterback Peyton Manning, when asked about hitting deep passes to Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders in Week 3 after missing on several long attempts in the first two games.


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