With just a little room to run during red zone drills, Denver Broncos wide receiver Eddie Royal bolted past one defender and used a nifty move to slip by another. An instant later, he was in the clear in the end zone where quarterback Kyle Orton hit him with a 10-yard dart.
That scene from Wednesday has become a familiar one during the Broncos training camp, where the second-year wide receiver is being groomed as an offensive centerpiece after a breakout rookie campaign a year ago.
"He sticks out every day," Denver coach Josh McDaniels said. "Eddie is a very talented player, a lot of ability, very smart, versatile. We move him all over the field. He's very unselfish, wants to do what's best for the team. He's accepted his role and he's doing a great job with it so far."
The 5-foot-10, 180-pound Royal provided a vivid demonstration of his capabilities last season. He set team rookie records for with 91 receptions, 980 yards receiving, and five touchdown catches. He also became the first player since the 1970 NFL merger to post his team's longest run (71 yards), reception (93 yards), kickoff return (95 yards), and punt return (36 yards) in the same season.
Royal finished with four games in which he had nine or more receptions, including a club rookie record 11 catches in a season-ending loss to the San Diego Chargers.
For his part, Royal is less impressed by those numbers than the opportunity to build on them, by improving his play as an individual and contributing to any overall improvement as an offense.
"I'm just coming out here and trying to get better every day," said Royal, who broke into the league as a second-round pick out of Virginia Tech. "It's not about individual stats at all. It's about winning. We want to win and we want to get to the playoffs."
The Broncos haven't done that for three consecutive seasons. The drought fueled a tumultuous offseason that included the firing of two-time Super Bowl winning coach Mike Shanahan and the trading away of Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler after he clashed with McDaniels, the former New England offensive coordinator brought in to replace Shanahan.
While the new Broncos coach hasn't been shy about making personnel changes on both sides of the ball, Royal is one holdover whom McDaniels has wholeheartedly embraced.
McDaniels has cited Royal's impact as a return man on top of his eagerness to learn the new offensive system that the coach brought with him from New England and his determination to build chemistry with Orton and backup Chris Simms. Both quarterbacks are in their first season in Denver.
"Learning the new terminology, learning where to line up, the different motions, it's tough, but at the same time, it's fun and it's challenging," Royal said. "You've got to come out here and challenge yourself, not only physically but mentally. We're working at that every day. Coach is putting challenges in front of us and we're trying to meet them together."
Royal said his working relationship with Orton and Simms is getting better by the day.
"They're both really good quarterbacks," Royal said. "They're accurate. They're getting better with their reads and they're getting the ball to us quickly, so I'm excited about it."
Simms had a birds-eye view of Royal's catch during red-zone drills and said the play encapsulated the receiver's ability to get open anywhere on the field.
"His talent -- you guys have seen it -- speaks for itself," Simms said. "He's unbelievably quick and fast and has very surprising strength for somebody his size as well."
While noting that Royal was one of the smartest receivers he's ever been around and a distinct talent in his own right, McDaniels said he could see a day where, in terms of efficiency and production, Royal could be likened to Wes Welker, whose 111 catches for New England last season were second-most in the league.
"Hopefully, you'll be talking about Eddie Royal in that same breath," McDaniels said.
That would suit Royal just fine. "That's what I'm here working for," Royal said.
(© 2009 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)
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