ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Wide receiver Cody Latimer spent his summer burning cornerback Bradley Roby in a daily must-see matchup of Big Ten rookies vying to make an immediate impact in the NFL.
Yet, the one who's gotten all the playing time so far is Roby, a first-round pick from Ohio State getting on-the-job training as Denver's slot cornerback.
Latimer, a second-round pick from Indiana, is buried in the Broncos' deep receiving corps.
While Roby has made a quick name for himself with 10 pass breakups, including a game-clincher, and two interceptions, Latimer has just one catch, from backup Brock Osweiler, to go with five game-day deactivations.
"I'm just waiting my turn," Latimer said. "I know it's a numbers game."
With two of Peyton Manning's top targets — Emmanuel Sanders (head) and Julius Thomas (ankle) dealing with injuries, Latimer's number could be called in the Dolphins-Broncos showdown Sunday.
Sanders returned to practice Friday but Thomas, who leads the league with 12 TD catches, didn't practice all week.
Manning no longer sees in Latimer a wide-eyed rookie scared to mess up but a confident receiver who knows the plays, understands the calls and looks ready for a bigger role.
"I certainly think if his name and number were called, he'd go in and answer the bell for us," Manning said.
Latimer recently passed a pop quiz from his famously demanding quarterback.
"He came up to me and had me go out there early before practice and put me through a drive and I did a good job on it," Latimer said. "So he congratulated me and said, 'You've been in your (play) book.' I said, 'Yeah.' So, it should be good whenever my time comes."
GM John Elway moved up in the draft to take the 6-foot-2, 215-pound receiver. So far, though, Latimer has mostly had to flash his unusual mix of size, speed, strength and superb hands and footwork at empty stadiums.
He goes out three hours before kickoff to practice his craft.
"I don't want to waste my time sitting around. You can always get better at something," he said.
Latimer has added one more attribute to his repertoire: patience.
"It's tough because most of these guys were the best player in their high school and, if not the best player in college, one of them," offensive coordinator Adam Gase said. "Anytime you come in and you're not playing a lot (you either) shut it down or stay with it. He's done a great job of staying in his book. He constantly is around me through the whole practice, asking me questions."
Receivers coach Tyke Tolbert called Latimer "a big sponge" and said this delay in getting him significant snaps from scrimmage will pay off because it's allowed him to better absorb the intricacies of this offense.
"Oh yeah, our audibles have audibles, our signals have signals, our code words have code words," Tolbert said.
Latimer insists he gets it now, and his teammates say it shows at practice.
"He's going against Aqib Talib, Chris Harris, so I feel like he's getting better and better every week," Demaryius Thomas said. "And also, I feel like he's learning stuff from me, Coach Tyke, Wes Welker, Emmanuel. I just see growth. He's going to be a good ballplayer."
Sanders practiced Friday for the first time since being knocked from the game last week by Rams safety Rodney McLeod's hit that drew a flag but no fine.
McLeod led with his shoulder and didn't hit Sanders in the head. "But I think his intentions the whole time were to come over and deliver a blow. That's the only thing I'm not happy about," Sanders said. "I feel like in the NFL, it is a violent game (but) you're also supposed to protect your brother, and most free safeties, they like interceptions. Obviously his intent was to try to make a statement, and I guess he did."
Notes: TE Virgil Green (right calf, questionable) said he's ready to return to the lineup after missing three games, which coincided with the O-line's nosedive. ... K Brandon McManus said he's not bothered by a strained groin anymore nor is he vexed by John Fox forgoing two long field goals at St. Louis last week. "We play the percentages and when you've got 18 (Manning), you've got a good chance of getting the first down," McManus said.
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