If the opinion of some of the best receivers to play the game of football has any merit, then former Gophers receiver Eric Decker should have a bright future in the NFL.
Decker, Minnesota’s all-time leading receiver and the Denver Broncos’ third-round pick in April’s NFL draft, was one of several NFL players participating in Arizona Cardinals All-Pro receiver Larry Fitzgerald’s unofficial camp at the Bierman athletic facility last week, where he impressed a few current and future Hall of Fame receivers that were conducting the drills.
“He wants to do everything the right way, [and] guys like that you like,” Dallas Cowboys Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin said . “When he gets to Denver, he’ll listen to anybody that tells him what it takes; and there’s the difference between being a bust and making it in this league.”
Joining Irvin at the camp was the Minnesota Vikings’ all-time leading receiver Cris Carter , who said he can tell that Decker was well-coached in Minnesota, but his intangibles also indicate that he will have success.
“Last year, I met him out here, and he was just coming off baseball, and he was hurt, and he was so upset [because] he couldn’t do anything, but I could see his fundamentals,” Carter said. “There’s something about him … a lot of times with a receiver, you can’t put your finger on it, but you know he’s going to be a good pro.”
Some projected Decker to be a first-round selection until he tore a ligament in his foot last October, sidelining him for the second half of his final season with the Gophers. The camp last week was the first time he has been able to run routes since the injury.
Since being drafted 87th overall in April, Decker has been working out with a strength coach to stay in shape while rehabbing his foot to be ready for training camp in late July. The fact that Decker has been able to stay in shape despite his injury doesn’t surprise Fitzgerald.
“Decker’s just a mentally tough guy,” Fitzgerald, a Minneapolis native, said. “Ever since I got to know him last year, I’ve seen his pedigree and his work ethic, and I think we’re all seeing that, and we’re going to see more of it as the seasons go.”
The Broncos traded away Brandon Marshall — their leading receiver each of the last three seasons — during the offseason but used their 22nd overall pick in the draft to pick up wide receiver Demaryius Thomas of Georgia Tech and have several veterans still on the roster such as Eddie Royal, Jabar Gaffney and Brandon Stokley . But despite the relative depth at the position in Denver, Decker is confident he can make an impact in some capacity.
“They give you an opportunity to compete with others in training camp, and it’s what you make of it,” Decker said. “My biggest thing right now is getting healthy and getting that opportunity to compete for [a spot] on the team and help them out.”
The camp is modeled on Carter’s FAST program, which was co-founded by Fitzgerald’s trainer Bill Welle and has been held on the Minnesota campus for two years. In addition to the immense amount of conditioning involved in the camp, Decker said he has been learning some of the technical aspects of being a receiver.
“You just pick up a lot of tips about getting off the line of scrimmage, against press coverage, getting out of cuts ... it’s just all technique work that they teach you,” he said. “The biggest thing, too, is how to finish when you’re tired ... because when you get to week 16 or 17, you’ll see what you have left.”
Also participating Thursday were Minnesota alumni Matt Spaeth (Pittsburgh Steelers), Wayzata native James Laurinaitis (St. Louis Rams), Dwayne Bowe (Kansas City Chiefs), Malcolm Jenkins (New Orleans Saints) and Minnesota Vikings Tavaris Jackson, Jaymar Johnson and Madieu Williams.
Former Gophers linebacker Simoni Lawrence , who is currently with the Philadelphia Eagles, was also in attendance as well as several rookie free agents. Former Gophers Jeff Tow-Arnett and Barrett Moen , who were recently cut by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks, respectively, also participated.
Joining his former teammates in the camp was former Gophers tight end Nick Tow-Arnett, who was recently released by the Cowboys after injuring his knee. Tow-Arnett said he is just waiting on a call from anybody to join their training camp later in the month.
Tow-Arnett said he has been keeping in touch with his former coaches at Minnesota and that they have been giving him some encouraging advice.
“It’s one of those things [where] I can’t do anything else right now besides just hear back,” Tow-Arnett said. “They’re just saying, ‘Be patient, keep your head up, and you’ll be alright.’ ”