ENGLEWOOD - Andre "Bubba" Caldwell canceled his vacation plans after the Denver Broncos' season ended last winter, heading instead to a tattered football field near his home in Atlanta to run routes by himself, ear buds and reflections his only companions.
He was determined to avoid a repeat of 2012, when he caught just one pass and was inactive half the time.
"I had a lot of lonely times - on a crappy football field like 300 feet away from my house," Caldwell said. "So, I'd just walk over there, a shoddy field, holes and everything. I'd be out there by myself, headphones sometimes, and I just made sure I pushed myself every day so I don't have to feel this pain and this hurt that I felt every Sunday."
That's why it stung so much when he saw that Peyton Manning had invited only Wes Welker, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker to his offseason workouts at Duke University. "No invite to duke to run routes and catch passes DAMN right I took it personal...#Motivation #StillGrinding," Caldwell tweeted on April 12.
Manning explained upon his return to Denver that Blue Devils coach David Cutcliffe, his college offensive coordinator, told him and his brother, Eli, they could only bring three receivers each to the workouts, "so I brought my three starting receivers."
Manning added that he was "excited to see Bubba's competitive attitude and I hope he turns that into a productive offseason and can be a productive player for us this year."
He did, and he is. Caldwell beat out draft pick Tavarres King for the No. 4 receiver job and has already made a bigger impact this season than he did all of last year.
OK, so he's only caught two passes, but they were both big. He caught one of Manning's record-tying seven touchdown throws in the opener and last week his 38-yard reception was the longest of the day for Manning and revved up Denver's high-octane offense for another banner afternoon.
Caldwell also walled off two tacklers as punt returner Trindon Holliday weaved his way upfield for an 81-yard touchdown.
Last year, Caldwell was the forgotten man in Denver's offense largely because he wasn't a major special teams contributor.
"If you're not a starter, the only way to make sure you're active on game days is to be on special teams," said Caldwell, noting that his offseason workouts helped him get a foothold on the punt return and punt coverage units this season.