He may be Bennie Fowler III by name, but in position he is no longer No. III.
Fowler is the Broncos’ No. 2 receiver this week, moving up a spot to fill in for the injured Emmanuel Sanders.
“I appreciate that but I don’t even know what the No. 3 receiver means,’’ Fowler said in his sit-down interview with 9NEWS this week. “We do it by committee. Every guy gets an opportunity.’’
Yes, but as a general rule, only two receivers get announced during pregame introductions. Fowler has started two games this year as the Broncos’ opened in a three-receiver set, and he has been such a productive No. 3 receiver this season, his 13 catches for 140 yards and two touchdowns are all closing in on career highs.
“Bennie’s a smart guy, he knows what to do and that’s half the battle as far as being a one or a two,’’ said Broncos head coach Vance Joseph. “He’s a receiver and he’s the next guy up, so he’s the number two. He was the number two last week from time-to-time. That has no relevance as far as who plays, he’s out there. He’s a one, you can say that also.”
Both of Fowler’s scores came in the season opener against the Los Angeles Chargers, a 24-21 Broncos victory in Denver. For the rematch Sunday against the Chargers at StubHub Center in Carson, Calif., Fowler figures to get a little more attention from the Chargers’ secondary.
Fowler and No. 1 receiver Demaryius Thomas will get most of the playing time with Jordan “Sunshine” Taylor working in behind them. If any of those receivers need a breather, Hunter Sharp will be the next one in after he was called up from the practice squad this week.
The Broncos only have those four receivers in this game as besides Sanders, two other receivers, Isaiah McKenzie and Cody Latimer, are out with injuries.
“I don’t ever want to see my teammates getting injured but this is an opportunity for me to step up this week, as well as Sunshine and Hunter Sharp,’’ Fowler said. “I don’t know if I’ll get more attention. They have to pay attention to every receiver out there so I’m going to play my game and not try to go out there and try to do too much and do what I’ve been doing the whole season.’’
Fowler has had to stay patient since the Broncos signed him as an undrafted rookie out of Michigan State in 2014. He spent his entire first season on the practice squad.
As a practice squad player, Fowler almost always spent the rest period after practice sitting in front of his locker, quietly watching the media interview other players of note -- and ignoring him.
“I felt like I was part of the team,’’ he said. “Especially in the meetings. When Peyton (Manning) asked you questions, you really feel like a part of the team. I was always observant. I was watching 18, D.T., Emmanuel, Wes (Welker) and the way they went about their work week and the way it carried over to Sundays.’’
He played it perfectly. Fowler made the Broncos’ 53-man roster the next year in 2015 thanks to an eye-popping preseason as a favorite target of a then-No. 3 rookie quarterback named Trevor Siemian.
Fowler had 16 catches for 203 yards in the 2015 regular season, then had two clutch receptions in the postseason. The first was a 31-yard catch-and-run from Manning to convert a third-and-12 during the Broncos’ go-ahead touchdown drive in their second-round playoff win against Pittsburgh. The second was a 2-point conversion catch off a Manning pass – the final throw of Manning’s incredible career – to secure Super Bowl 50.
The following season didn’t go so well because of two injuries. Fowler was about to supplant Jordan Norwood as the Broncos’ No. 3 receiver in 2016, but he fractured his elbow in the first preseason game and missed the first two games of the season.
Then after it appeared Fowler made the play of the game with his 76-yard, fourth quarter touchdown reception from Siemian against the Kansas City Chiefs in game 11, Fowler discovered afterwards he had suffered a knee sprain. He missed his third game of the season and wasn’t himself the rest of the way, and finished with just 11 catches.
“Very frustrating,’’ Fowler said. “Because I was getting into a rhythm with Trevor and the offense and then I break my elbow my first preseason game, come back, have the brace on.
“And then against Kansas City I get a grade 2 sprain in my knee. It’s hard to do your job as a receiver, cutting and planting but last year’s behind us and we’re on to a new year.’’
He’s been healthy this year and is now in position to take advantage of his quarterback-receiver relationship with Siemian.
“Trevor and I have got a lot of reps the last three years,’’ Fowler said. “I know what he’s thinking. We have good communication and … we’ll continue to carry that over to Sunday.’’