It's looking more and more like wide receiver Eddie Royal will not play on Sunday against the Raiders, the team he torched in his NFL debut what seems like just yesterday. Royal has had three terrible games against the Raiders following that Monday Night performance, and a groin injury could keep him out of the first matchup this year entirely.
With Matthew Willis lost for the season with a broken foot, Royal's absence means increased action for not only Demaryius Thomas, but we could see fellow rookie Eric Decker get on the field with the offense for the first time in his career.
Decker, a third round pick out of Minnesota, battled injuries this offseason but made a name for himself in the pre-season, where he led the NFL with 16 receptions in four games. Decker has always been a guy known for his great hands and route running skills, and the Broncos have brought him along slowly. His first taste of NFL action could come in a must win game for the Broncos against one of their most bitter rivals.It's ironic that as I'm writing this piece, I visit the Broncos' official team site only to find the featured story is "Helmets Off: Eric Decker," an interview with the rookie receiver.
Decker told DenverBroncos.com that he is slowly getting acclimated to the NFL, and that he is becoming more comfortable by the day.
"Yeah, I think every week I start to feel more comfortable with being in the locker room with the guys, what the coaches expect from me and just how things are run on a week-to-week basis. It's definitely enjoyable. It's still a transition because it's such a long season and you've got to mentally prepare yourself for that and for, from my standpoint, always being ready to play in case a receiver goes down or on special teams. Just making sure I'm ready to go every Sunday."
One of two third round picks by the Broncos, Decker began his NFL career by working out with and signing with the same agent as fellow Bronco Demaryius Thomas. Neither player knew they would become teammates, or that they would form such a strong bond. Now, Thomas and Decker share the same practice field. Not only that, they share the same living space. Thomas and Decker are roomates and close friends. Decker says it has made the transition to the NFL a lot easier for him.
"We obviously came in together, we live together as well. So coming home from practice, talking about the day, discussing different experiences we've had on the field and off the field, it definitely helps you make it through a professional lifestyle."
Patiently waiting his turn at wide receiver, Decker also realizes the importance of playing special teams for the Broncos. He has an interesting take on his waiting game so far.
"Definitely. It has to be that way, especially when you get deeper into the season and you get injuries, it's kind of the next man up. Obviously it's a smaller roster than college, as well, so you've got to be versatile in what you can do. As a rookie, you've just got to wait for your opportunities, and once you get them you've got to make the most of them."
It has to be tough for Decker, coming from a Minnesota program where he was "the guy" for four years. Decker holds almost every Minnesota receiving record, and ended his career with only three dropped passes. At 6'3" 220 pounds, he was a mid-round find by the Broncos that could pay huge dividends. In fact, there were some scouts who raved about Decker's NFL prospects, and considered him a first round talent.
A foot injury derailed any hope of Decker becoming a top pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, but the Broncos can't be too disappointed about it.
While Decker's impact might not be felt in full for a year or so, the Broncos might need him to contribute as soon as Sunday afternoon, and in more than just a special teams role.
One thing is for sure--Decker will be ready for the task at hand.