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Decker a different receiver with Manning around

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Decker a different receiver with Manning around

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) 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 offense 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 coordinators started to key on him more. The result: a monthlong lull in which he totaled just 10 catches and one TD before putting up consecutive eight-catch performances the last two weeks.

``The defense 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 defense 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-foot-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, totaling 221 yards. His 51-yard touchdown turned Denver's showdown at Baltimore last weekend into a rout and caused Ravens safety Ed Reed to rip off his helmet in disgust as he stormed to the sideline.

``My mindset doesn't change at all,'' Decker said. ``I come to practice and work hard every day and expect to be the best and I expect the best out of myself. In certain games, obviously defenses allow different guys to be open with coverages, different schemes.''

Decker's team-high nine TDs, one more than Thomas, are a career best and give him 18 for his career, the most by a Bronco in his first three seasons.

``I like a lot of things. I like touchdowns. I like wins. I like catches. It's all fun,'' Decker said. ``When you're winning ballgames, it doesn't matter how many yards you got, how many catches you got, as long as you're doing your piece to win the ballgame, that's what it comes down to.''

Decker and Thomas have been the biggest beneficiaries of the pinpoint passing Manning brought to the Broncos. His 67.9 completion percentage is second highest in his career. Tebow, on the other hand, completed just 46 percent of his passes a year ago and 40 percent in the playoffs.

Decker also is benefiting from his first full training camp last summer. There was the lockout in 2011 and he was on the mend in 2010 after missing the last half of his senior season at Minnesota with a foot injury.

There have been some hiccups along the way. Decker has dropped seven passes so far; Thomas has eight. So, it's not quite the chemistry Manning built up with Reggie Wayne or Marvin Harrison in Indianapolis - or the comfort zone he maintains with Stokley, a former teammate of his with the Colts - but it's getting there.

As Manning says, it's a crash course and everybody's been cramming.

Decker and Thomas are taking turns as teacher's pet.

``I like young players that really want to get better, and those guys have done that,'' Manning said. ``Our timing has improved throughout the season. It's not what it would be had we played together for five years.''

Decker, though, sees it getting better, from way back in March to this week as they iron out wrinkles in preparing for the Cleveland Browns (5-9) - and then the playoffs.

``I think in any relationship, whether it's a significant other or a teammate,'' Decker said, ``the more time you get, the better it always develops.''

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Report: Ravens add Kenjon Barner to crowded running back room

Report: Ravens add Kenjon Barner to crowded running back room

The Ravens running back room has suddenly become a tad more crowded.

Baltimore has reportedly signed seven-year veteran Kenjon Barner, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

The addition of Barner likely has little to do with Baltimore's plan on offense, as Mark Ingram and rookie J.K. Dobbins are expected to carry the bulk of the Ravens' rushing attack.

Barner, a former star at the University of Oregon, spent the past year with the Atlanta Falcons as the team's primary returner. For Baltimore, bringing in a guy like Barner makes sense, as one of the team's primary return men from a year ago, De'Anthony Thomas, decided to opt-out of the 2020 season.

The signing of Barner is a low-risk, high-reward one for Baltimore. Rookie James Proche is also expected to be in the mix in the return game.

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Ravens coach John Harbaugh: ‘I can’t imagine there’s any safer place than an NFL football team right now’

Ravens coach John Harbaugh: ‘I can’t imagine there’s any safer place than an NFL football team right now’

Ravens coach John Harbaugh hasn’t been shy on his feelings about the NFL’s coronavirus protocols. He said in June, and repeated Friday, they’re impossible to follow to a T. 

But he’s also very confident in the ability of NFL teams to create a safe and productive environment during a global pandemic. 

Harbaugh said that compared to the rest of the country, most players are safer at facilities with their teams than at their homes.

“I can’t imagine there’s any safer place than an NFL football team right now, an NBA basketball bubble,” Harbaugh said. “We’re pretty darn safe. If you want to rank them, we’re all in the top five across the country. We’re right up there with anybody. We get tested every day and we are wearing masks everywhere.”

The Ravens, by all accounts, have done well making sure their facility in Owings Mills is not only following protocols for players and coaches, but also making sure it’s as easy a transition as possible. 

Rookie linebacker Patrick Queen said last week that players are constantly being reminded to wear their masks, wash their hands and keep distance from one another.

“All you can do is the best you can do and mitigate it to a great extent,” Harbaugh said. “I think we’ve done a really good job of that so far, there are no guarantees going forward. We’ve got to stay vigilant like we’ve done.”

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The Ravens have had just two players opt out of the upcoming season — wide receiver/kick returner De’Anthony Thomas and tackle Andre Smith — but it was certainly a conversation for a lot of players in the locker room. 

Most notably, defensive lineman Calais Campbell.

“I definitely considered (opting out). You have to,” Campbell said. “You can’t play football with this going on and not think about the risk you’re going to put on yourself and your family. Going through that process, I realized talking to the doctors and just setting up the protocols and other things we have to do to keep each other safe, I felt like the risks were mitigated the best we can.”

Campbell, who was acquired from the Jaguars in a trade in March, is set to turn 34-years-old on Sept. 1 and has asthma. 

The five-time Pro Bowl selection would have been one of the most notable names in the league to voluntarily opt out of the 2020 season. But with the protocols in place, he felt safer about his participation. 

One topic of discussion for the Ravens and their protocols, too, has been the option of quarantining a specific group of players to prevent a spread. 

Likely, those players would be at positions of extreme value — like quarterback — or players where backups aren’t readily available — like kicker. It just so happens that the Ravens have two of the league’s best players at those positions in Lamar Jackson and Justin Tucker. 

But as Harbaugh said, each move comes with a consequence, and that includes the “safer” option of quarantining the entire league.

“For instance, if you were going to quarantine the NFL for six months, yeah, if you were a doctor, you’d say, ‘Yeah, we want the best chance to keep everyone safe and healthy,’” Harbaugh said. “That would be great, but I kind of want to see my wife at some point in time in the next six months, and she doesn’t have coronavirus. So you’ve got to live with a certain amount of risk in order to live your life. We don’t want to forfeit all these guys' lives and they’re not willing to do it.”

Which means, for now, the players at the facility have assumed a level of risk for the upcoming season.

With the Ravens’ protocols in place, however, it’s all about minimizing those risks as much as possible.

“I put a lot of thought into it on my own, too, with my own underlying issues,” Campbell said. “I’m pretty confident in my ability to follow the rules.”

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