Aug 24, 2012; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns wide receiver Jordan Norwood (10) catches a pass while being defended by Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Brandon Boykin (22) in the second quarter in a preseason game at Cleveland Browns Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-US Presswire

Sleeper WR Jordan Norwood Could See Action With Broncos Starters

Jordan Norwood knows what it’s like to try and make it in the NFL. It’s a grind.

He was part of a freshman class of receivers at Penn State that had high expectations, when they brought in #1 recruit Derrick Williams as well as Deon Butler and Norwood. All of those guys played in the NFL some, but Norwood is the only one who remains.

And he might stick it out again for at least another year.

The Broncos picked up Norwood at the end of last season when they signed him to a futures contract, but unlike the other guys signed to those contract, Norwood has been around the block. He has started or played in a significant number of NFL games back in his days with the Cleveland Browns. He’s been out of the league — and back again — but most recently played in 2012 with the Cleveland Browns.

Norwood has reportedly done a phenomenal job of picking up the Broncos’ scheme this offseason. He earned high marks from Wes Welker, the man he is currently listed behind on the depth chart both at slot receiver and return specialist. Welker told the Denver Post how impressed he is with Norwood’s offseason thus far.

“He’s had a great camp, kind of the surprise guy of the camp,” Welker said of Norwood, who caught the game-winning, 34-yard touchdown pass that beat the Seattle Seahawks 21-16 in the preseason opener last week. “He’s done a great job of picking up the concepts, and he’s got some real ability.”

The Broncos are looking into the option of keeping a sixth wide receiver on the roster this year, and with the drafting of Cody Latimer, they may have to. Last season, the Broncos gave the fifth wide receiver spot to Trindon Holliday, so they really only carried four guys at that position officially, as Holliday wasn’t able to contribute from the receiver position at all.

This year, the Broncos already have five receivers on the roster but no one who can return kicks and punts. Despite the fact that Wes Welker is listed as the top punt returner, we all know that’s not a viable solution.

Norwood’s emergence in the first preseason game as well as throughout camp pushed him to the front of the line when it comes to battling it out for that last receiver spot on the Broncos’ roster. He’s built some chemistry with Peyton Manning, and saw action with the starters at practice this week. Here’s a report from Andrew Mason’s notebook:

Special teams — specifically, punt returns — will likely determine whether wide receiver Jordan Norwood has a place on the 53-man roster. But he’s listed on the second team, and with Emmanuel Sanders nursing a quadriceps injury, that meant a handful of snaps for Norwood with the first team. During the two-minute drill at the end of practice, Norwood caught a pair of passes from Peyton Manning for 36 yards, moving the offense to the 10-yard-line.

For Norwood, the son of a coach, this offseason has been the culmination of a lot of hours studying the game, trying to hone in on his craft. He’s 27 years old and is potentially facing the last major opportunity he’ll have to crack an NFL roster. Lucky for him, he’s got the inside track right now at the last spot on the best offense in football.

And with injuries arising in camp, no matter how minor, his opportunity recently came.

It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see Norwood work in with the Broncos’ first team offense, if only for a bit in their preseason game against the 49ers. If he can prove on the field in a game situation his chemistry with Manning and his rapid growth in the offense, he needs only to prove a capable punt returner to make the team. More from Mason’s notes, a quote from offensive coordinator Adam Gase:

“You can tell he is very smart in what the defense is trying to do,” said Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase. “He’s done a good job using leverage of the defense to get open. He really understands what we’re trying to do with our scheme compared to the defensive scheme.”

After the draft, it appeared the Broncos’ most likely solution at the return specialist spot was going to be rookie undrafted free agent Isaiah Burse, and it still could very well be. Burse was out-played by Norwood in the first preseason game, and is still learning the ropes as a rookie.

The Broncos could potentially sneak Burse onto the practice squad at this point if Norwood’s role continues to grow, but time will tell. For now, the stage couldn’t be bigger for Norwood, who has now drawn the attention of not just the coaches but everyone watching the Broncos. His game-winning catch solidified a new, brighter, hotter spotlight. It’s his time to perform and prove last week’s game was no fluke.

If he can do that, he might just have himself a spot on a championship roster.

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