ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Jacob Tamme was the other free agent who chose Denver as his destination last year after making a name for himself in Indianapolis.
His familiarity with Peyton Manning paid off with a starting role for the Broncos in 2012, and he ranked third on the club in catches (52) and yards receiving (555) to go along with two TDs.
That all changed this season with the emergence of Julius Thomas.
With the third-year tight end having an All-Pro kind of season and leading the high-flying Broncos with 10 touchdown catches, Tamme, a standout at Kentucky, was relegated to special teams and spot duty on offense, where he had just three catches for 27 yards heading into last weekend's game at New England.
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"I'd be lying if I said it wasn't frustrating sometimes just because I know what I can do and everyone's eager to have that role and do those things," Tamme said. "But we've got a lot of good players on this team and that's the way it's been since I got here. So, Julius has done a great job.
"I feel like I can step in and go and make plays whenever my number's been called."
Tamme gave everyone a reminder of his value Sunday night when Thomas missed the game against the Patriots with a balky right knee.
"Jacob had some really significant, contested catches in big moments," interim coach Jack Del Rio said.
On a frigid night at Gillette Stadium, when the football felt like a frozen turkey and the Broncos lost five fumbles and dropped seven passes, Tamme caught all five thrown his way, covering 47 hard-earned yards.
Four of those were third-down conversions, including a 10-yard TD just before halftime. He also drew a critical pass interference call that set up the late touchdown that sent the game into overtime.
It's a performance that might have bought him a bigger role down the stretch, even though Thomas is on track to return to action Sunday at Kansas City in an AFC West showdown between two 9-2 teams.
"We like to reward guys that do well and give them a little more," Del Rio said. "And I would think that would be a strong possibility."
The Broncos might use more two-tight end sets because Tamme is sure-handed and a tough matchup on intermediate routes that are so crucial in Manning's quick-fire release.
In the meantime, Tamme said he'll keep embracing his role on special teams, where he leads the team with eight tackles.
"It's a fun consolation for me because I do enjoy it," Tamme said. "I think as you get older, as you get a few years in this league, you realize just how important special teams are to the game and how much of an effect you can have if you can become a guy that teams have to look at."
Tamme didn't play much on special teams last year when he and Joel Dreessen were the starting tight ends and combined to catch 93 passes for 911 yards and seven TDs.
Both were hurt last summer, Tamme with a thigh injury and Dreessen with knee problems, opening the door for Thomas.
Now, Thomas has 45 catches for 590 yards, and he's tied the franchise single-season record for a tight end with 10 TD catches set by Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe. Meanwhile, Tamme and Dreessen have combined for 11 catches, 87 yards and two scores.
The way Tamme sees it, special teams allow him to get back to the basics of football, to when he first learned the game at Boyle County High School in Danville.
"I like the defensive side of it. I like the kickoff team and punt return, being able to go rush a punter and then go make a tackle," Tamme said.
In Indianapolis, he was Dallas Clark's backup before making a name for himself in 2010, when he caught 67 passes for 631 yards and four TDs.
"You've got to appreciate every snap in this league. It doesn't last forever," Tamme said. "That's why it is frustrating when you're not playing as much on offense, but when you're a part of a team like this that has a chance to do really good things, a team that has a legitimate chance to get that end goal, that's what it's about for me."