DENVER -- The fast track to the lineup became a slalom course. K.J. Hamler re-injured his hamstring in training camp, creating murmurs that his transition to the NFL would be clumsy.
It is, after all, for many receivers, even those who are healthy. Look at the history of rookie seasons for Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Cody Latimer for the Broncos. Hamler, though, does everything quickly. When injured, he stood behind teammates at practice, taking notes in his journal, accelerating his understanding of the expanded route tree and the nuances in coverage.
"The injury was God telling me to slow down. It was a blessing," Hamler said. "And I am a hands-on learner."
While the Broncos offense remains underwhelming, Hamler's emergence and Jerry Jeudy's solid production hints of a brighter future.
Jeudy remains on pace to break the Broncos' single-season record for yards in a season, topping Eddie Royal's mark. And Hamler's numbers have recently popped like aluminum foil in a microwave. The former Penn State star boasts 21 catches for 240 yards, one touchdown and 11 first downs. Narrow the lens, and the stats become more impressive. Hamler has 10 catches on 20 targets for 125 yards the past two games.
"I think me and Jerry are capable of making big plays," Hamler said. "We are shooting for the stars."
In a league of lightning receivers, Hamler is a blur. The challenge is real, though.
"In college, you can blow a team out. It's for sure different. When it comes to the NFL, it's always a fight," said Hamler, who is expecting physical play from the Miami Dolphins cornerbacks this week. "And that hasn't failed. It's like that every week."
The modest expectations for Hamler no longer fit. He could -- should? -- finish with 40 catches for 450 yards and three touchdowns. Jeudy is stalking a 1,000-yard season with four touchdowns. While the season is careening toward disappointment, roughly 1,500 yards and seven touchdowns from the pair is encouraging. Jeudy ranks 18th in the NFL with 69 targets, and should finish the season as a top five rookie receiver. He consistently shakes defenders, and continues to show elite route-running skills.
Jeudy has become more vocal in recent weeks, helping hold teammates to a higher standard. He has already lost more games this season than he did in his career at Alabama. The Broncos are 3-6 for the fourth straight season, and this rookie class wants to be part of the core that finally executes the U-turn.
"We can't let a mistake dictate how we play the rest of the game. When we watched the film today, it's a lot of stuff I could have done better and other guys could have done better. At the end of the day, we are not executing," Hamler said. "We have to get back on track. This is a bump of adversity right now. We have to get over that bump."
Hamler is finding his fit, and already has a defining moment. He made a terrific adjustment, reading Drew Lock's point guard roll out, and positioned himself for the game-tying reception against the Chargers on the last play of the game. It punctuated the most dramatic victory of the season. His mother Latonya is his No. 1 fan. But she admitted missing his score, falling asleep because of her schedule.
"I don't blame her. My mom is a hard-working woman. She works nights, so she has to sleep during the day and go to work," Hamler said. "I couldn't be mad at her. She called me right after it. I love my mom."
Hamler's family helped him get comfortable with the Broncos. They were involved in moving him to Colorado, and securing a new place. He is close to his parents and sister. For mother's day, he got his mom a pup. The name makes a lot of sense, and could grow in significance as the years pass.
"She was always talking about a dog, and I got her one after I got drafted by the Broncos. So of course I named the (Maltese poodle) Denver," Hamler said. "It is obvious. And I think it's a nice name."
DeMarcus Walker has benefited from better health and is showing flashes of promise in what could be his last season in Denver. He has three tackles and a sack in his last two games. His contract expires at the end of the year. "I just want to win (this season). That's all I am thinking about," he said. ...
On the Miami Dolphins, Tua Tagovailoa is the first rookie QB in Dolphins history to win each of his first three starts. He is the highest drafted QB in Miami since the Dolphins chose Hall of Fame QB Bob Griese with the fourth pick in 1967. ...
The Broncos have scored 12 points over the past three first halves. The Dolphins have won five straight, in part, because they have outscored opponents 163-89 in first halves this season. A slow start Sunday means likely no chance for Denver.