ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Eric Decker was the first of Peyton Manning's workout buddies, sneaking onto high school football fields in the spring to work on his rhythm and rapport with his new quarterback.
The sessions helped Manning regain his arm strength and rediscover his old form after a series of neck operations that sidelined him all of last season and led to his departure from Indianapolis.
They were just as helpful for Decker, recovering from a sprained left knee he hurt in the playoffs.
All those hours together are paying off.
Decker leads the Denver Broncos (11-3) with nine touchdown grabs and he's 77 yards shy of joining fellow third-year receiver Demaryius Thomas with his first 1,000-yard season. No Denver duo has accomplished that feat since 2004.
Decker and Thomas both have hit their stride this season after dealing with injuries much of their first two years with the Broncos. And patiently playing in Tim Tebow's option-read offence a year ago.
Thomas was recovering from left-thumb surgery when Manning signed in March, so it was up to Decker to get the four-time MVP acclimated to the Mile High City.
With 1,210 yards on 78 receptions -- six more than Decker -- Thomas has emerged as the Broncos' biggest downfield threat. But Decker's no slouch.
Decker was so productive earlier in the year that defensive co-ordinators started to key on him more. The result: a monthlong lull in which he totalled just 10 catches and one TD before putting up consecutive eight-catch performances the last two weeks.
"The defence does dictate a little bit of what you do in a lot of different ways," coach John Fox said. "It just works out that way. I think we've got a quarterback where he's going to take what the defence gives him. He can sort those things out pretty well, as good as probably anybody."
Manning doesn't force throws to a go-to receiver. This season, he's completed passes to 15 players, including a touchdown to defensive tackle Mitch Unrein. And with tight ends Joel Dreessen and Jacob Tamme, he has four big targets, all 6-3 or taller and packing an average of 232 pounds.
Complaining isn't in Decker's DNA. The affable receiver isn't a prima donna who goes public with his desire for more touches. He never griped last year when he caught just 14 passes after the Broncos dusted off the old read-option to fit Tebow's unusual skill set, and he's not about to complain by lobbying for more action while playing with an all-time great QB.
"You never know when your number is going to be called and we all continue to work hard and try to get better, and he's done that and it showed," teammate Brandon Stokley said. "Next week, it might be Demaryius getting a lot of balls thrown his way. But the last few weeks, Decker stepped his game up and had the opportunities and made the most of it."
Decker has tied his career high with eight catches in each of the last two games, totalling 221 yards.
-- The Associated Press