On Monday, Broncos receiver KJ Hamler made it a point to get extra reps on one particular play.
The second-year receiver, known for his speed, had an assistant coach throw him 100 over-the-shoulder deep balls. Less than 24 hours earlier, Hamler had dropped what would have been a touchdown on a wide-open over-the-shoulder deep ball — 50 yards to be exact — a catch he likely makes 99 out of 100 times.
"I was disappointed in the drop," Hamler said this week. "Even in camp, I don’t drop ‘tuds’ (touchdowns) and deep balls and stuff like that. That’s my thing, I’m a deep threat. It just slipped through."
Hamler has little time to sulk, as his role is only going to increase this week against the Jaguars and for the foreseeable future. The Broncos are going to be without star wide receiver Jerry Jeudy for at least three weeks — likely longer — after he was placed on the injured reserve with an ankle injury he suffered only five plays after Hamler's drop.
"We lost a key piece to the receiver room, knowing he’s going to be back soon," Hamler said. "Everybody has to step up. Next man up mentality, basically. It’s messed up that Jerry has to go through this right now. At the time, I was putting his injury on me, because if I would’ve caught that ‘tud’ that probably would’ve never happened. I can’t say that, necessarily. But we’re all wishing Jerry a speedy recovery. You know how he is. He wants to be on the field. Everyone has to step up. Next man up mentality.”
Replacing Jeudy's production is going to be a team effort. Jeudy was the Broncos' leading receiver in 2020 with 856 yards and three touchdowns. He was also their leading receiver against the Giants despite not playing half of the third quarter and the entire fourth, catching six passes for 72 yards.
Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick will certainly be heavily relied on because of their experience — Patrick especially looked good Sunday with four receptions for 39 yards and a touchdown. As well as tight ends Noah Fant and Albert Okwuegbunam, who have somewhat become quarterback Teddy Bridgewater's security blanket after combining for nine receptions, 78 yards and a touchdown. The Broncos also elevated practice squad wide receiver Kendall Hinton.
“Obviously, we’re going to miss Jerry, and obviously it hurts our depth," coach Vic Fangio said. "KJ, Tim, Courtland, Kendall, ‘Spence’ (WR Diontae Spencer) — they’ll be able to go in there and fill the void. Jerry was having a hell of a camp, as you all noticed. He had a really good game going the other day, and we’re going to miss him while he’s out.”
But it's Hamler who could be the difference-maker for the Broncos. His speed downfield is something few teams are able to cover and while he had the drop Sunday, he's typically a sure-handed receiver.
“KJ has just got to be KJ and he’s a special player; he’s here for a reason," Bridgewater said. "He’s explosive, he’s dynamic, he’s shifty, he can catch the ball well, he runs great routes, and that’s what we expect of him this week. We don’t need him to come in and try to be something that he’s not and he doesn’t have to pretend to be something that he’s not. If KJ can be the best version of KJ he’ll, help this offense and he’ll continue to grow in the system and in this league.”
Hamler said Bridgewater has been like a "big brother" to him this season. Bridgewater has made it a point to take the 22-year-old under his wing, having his locker moved next to Hamler's before the season.
And that's important for a guy like Hamler, who was visibly upset with himself Sunday and not his typical happy-go-lucky self Monday during his press conference. He's not only going to need his teammates' belief in him, but his own belief. Because if the Broncos want to win without Jeudy, Hamler is going to have to step up.
“With me, I’ve been hard on myself my whole life because I’ve always had to prove people wrong, especially — I’m 5'9 and I didn’t do the combine and stuff like that," Hamler said. "I’ve always been the underdog my whole life so I’ve always been hard on myself. So even after the drop, I was still thinking about it. ... After the game, the next few days, it was still on my mind.
"I won’t drop that again because that’s not my forte."