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COLUMN

IU wide receiver Latimer hits Peyton Manning jackpot

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For more on the NFL, follow Reggie Hayes via Twitter at www.twitter.com/reggiehayes1

He's headed to Denver for a great learning experience

Saturday, May 10, 2014 - 2:34 am

Indiana University wide receiver Cody Latimer's first five minutes with the legend in Denver will surely be his most nerve-wracking. That's when he'll realize he's now one of Mr. Manning's teammates.

Latimer should call him Mr. Manning, right? Peyton seems way too familiar for a guy who has been an NFL star since Latimer was 6 years old. Now it's likely Manning will dismiss the formality and try to put Latimer at ease because that's what Manning does. He draws teammates to him, especially receivers. But Latimer should start with respect and go from there.

It doesn't get much better for a receiver in the NFL Draft than it did for Latimer on Friday, when the Broncos traded up to the No.56 spot and selected him.

A year ago, few people outside of his family and rabid IU football fans (how many is that, really?) would have even known Latimer's name. But he had a great junior season, and then posted the kind of shirts-and-shorts performances that boost a receiver's stock.

This is a deep year for wide receivers, and Latimer moved into the mix as one of the players to watch.

Now he gets Peyton Manning throwing him the ball.

I'm not sure if Latimer knows how fortunate he is, but he'll soon find out. Manning's forte is taking young receivers and showing them how to be a success on the NFL level.

During his years with the Indianapolis Colts, Manning helped the great ones, such as Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, but also players like Blair White, who didn't have the most jaw-dropping skills. Manning's main requirement is that wide receivers respect the game and respect the work necessary to improve as an individual and a team.

Latimer would be wise, after paying due respects to “Mr. Manning,” but carefully not referencing his age, to volunteer for any throwing sessions that Manning might be willing to include Latimer in. When Latimer gets to those sessions, whether the official organized ones or the possible extracurricular ones, he needs to show he's done his work.

To ingratiate himself with Manning, Latimer needs to demonstrate two things immediately:

1. Run sharp routes. Latimer needs to be where he's supposed to be when Manning's passes come his way. Like all the great quarterbacks, timing is of the essence. Latimer must be where he's supposed to be because that's where Manning will put the ball. If that doesn't happen in training camp, etc., it won't happen in the games. And if it doesn't happen in games, it leads to interceptions. Manning doesn't like interceptions.

2. Catch the football. It's simple. Wide receivers are paid to catch. The sooner Latimer can prove his reliability as a pass catcher, the sooner he'll earn Manning's trust. Perhaps Latimer's climb up the depth chart in Denver won't give him all that many chances during his rookie season. There are receivers ahead of him. But here's the strange thing about the NFL: Injures happen. No.4 or No.5 receivers suddenly end up in the top three due to attrition. Latimer needs to prove, from Day One, that Manning can trust him if he gets that opportunity.

If you're a receiver waiting out the NFL Draft, wondering where you'll land and who will be throwing you the ball, you have to secretly hope it's Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees.

Latimer needs to show his respect for Manning, and then work like he's never worked before. Bill Polian, an expert on receivers and Manning, not necessarily in that order, says Latimer has a “lot to like,” but needs to work on the finer points of his craft. That means learning the intricacies of getting separation from defensive backs and running flawless routes.

Latimer hit the figurative jackpot when Denver called his name. If he can work into Manning's inner circle and gain the master's trust, a literal jackpot won't be too far behind.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com.