ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — For a rookie receiver who had no offseason team practices, no preseason and not even much training camp because of a hamstring injury, KJ Hamler is coming along surprisingly well.
Surprising because most rookie receivers struggle, even if they are second-round draft picks as Hamler was for the Broncos in late-April. But after missing two games and most of a third because of his hamstring issue, Hamler has 10 catches for 125 yards combined in the Broncos’ last two games. And that was before he made a fallback, game-winning catch for a touchdown on the final play of the Broncos’ 31-30 victory against the Chargers.
"You’ve just got to be patient," Hamler said about return from extended down time during a Zoom call with members of the Denver media Tuesday. "At that time, I think it was a sign from God telling me to slow down and give me some time to slow down and evaluate things for yourself. I look at it as a blessing in disguise, and it really helped me being on the sideline, writing all the plays down and just getting mental reps because I couldn’t do it physically. Doing those mental reps really helped. I’m a hands-on guy when I learn stuff so writing the plays down multiple times helped me out a lot tremendously and helped me understand the offense tremendously."
Although known for his speed, Hamler has made plenty of catches in traffic as he works middle routes from his slot position. He’s made 21 catches in all for 240 yards in 7 games. Not bad for a No. 3 receiver behind veteran Tim Patrick and fellow rookie Jerry Jeudy.
"That’s one thing I’m learning about the league—there’s more contested catches," said Hamler, who played two seasons at Penn State. "The elite guys have to do that. I watch (former Panthers receiver) Steve Smith a lot to see how he did it. We’re kind of the same frame, but he’s a little heavier than I am. He made a lot of those. Just watching him and seeing how he elevated to get the ball and attacked the ball in the air—that’s the stuff you have to do in the league. I’m not going to always have 10 yards of separation from a guy like I used to in college. I can still do it, but it’s going to be more contested catches and the tough catches that you have to make to help the team."
He says he’ll have to battle to get his catches Sunday against a Dolphins’ defense that is fourth in the league with 15 takeaways.
"Just man coverage and physical," Hamler said. "They’re a little grabby. We have to execute. There’s no more discussion. We have to execute. We have to keep the energy up from the first quarter to the fourth and we have to put points on the board."
Davontae Harris waived
With cornerback DeVante Bausby returning to the 53-man roster this week, the Broncos made room by waiving backup cornerback/special teamer Davontae Harris.
A starting cornerback in six of the 16 games he played last season, Harris was limited to special teams this year until injuries to starters Bryce Callahan and A.J. Bouye led him to start at Atlanta. Harris got burned for two deep passes and was flagged for pass interference and was benched before halftime.
The Broncos have two open spots on their 53-man roster with one saved for defensive lineman Shelby Harris when he is eligible to come off the COVID list either this weekend or early next week. Elijah Wilkinson, Mark Barron, Andrew Beck, LeVante Bellamy, Jake Butt and Derrek Tuszka are among the players on injured reserve who appear to be getting healthy.
Backup linebacker Josh Watson may also be under consideration for a roster spot after his fine special teams play as a practice squad call-up Sunday against the Raiders.
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