Veteran Thomas adds wrinkle to offense
Receiver’s skill set impresses Hopkins, poses tandem threat
DENVER — DeAndre Hopkins’ workout partner three years ago delivered feats of strength and speed that left a lasting impression on him.
As Hopkins trained alongside Demaryius Thomas that offseason, he was struck by how athletic and dedicated Thoma was.
At a sculpted 6-3, 229 pounds, Thomas ran the 40-yard dash in 4.36 seconds when he entered the NFL nine years ago as the Broncos’ first-round pick out of Georgia Tech.
In Thomas, Hopkins saw a veteran wide receiver with an physical style like his own.
“His scores and how high he tested in everything,” said Hopkins, who is accustomed to being ranked the best in everything. “Even though he was a bigger guy, he tested higher than I did in basically everything, so I was trying to push to reach his goals.”
Three years later following a high-profile midseason trade, Thomas and Hopkins are team- mates and involved in a whirlwind pairing that brings them to Broncos Stadium at Mile High on Sunday. afternoon.
When wide receiver Will Fuller, the fastest player on the roster who had emerged as one of the most dangerous deep threats in the NFL, tore his anterior cruciate ligament against the Dolphins, Texans general manager Brian Gaine moved aggressively to replace him.
The Texans traded a fourthround pick and swapped seventhround selections with Broncos general manager John Elway, acquiring an accomplished wide receiver to work in tandem with Hopkins.
When Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson breaks the huddle Sunday, he’ll have two imposing receivers in Hopkins and Thomas. Both are excellent at making contested catches by leaping over or muscling defensive backs out of their way.
“It’s going to be great,” Watson said. “Nothing really should stop the train. DT’s a veteran guy that can do a lot of different things and he’s played a lot of football.”
A five-time Pro Bowl selection, Thomas has caught 665 career passes for 9,055 yards and 60 touchdowns. He isn’t the burner he was early in his career, but the 30-year-old is capable of getting behind cornerbacks.
“Nothing’s changing,” Watson said. “We’re doing what we’re doing. Throw it deep, throw it short, throw it across the middle. I mean, everything we’re going to do, we’re going to do. Just because we lose Will doesn’t mean that the train is going to stop or we’re going to take a different route.”
When it comes to using their body control and superior size, Thomas and Hopkins excel. They have huge hands, excellent leaping ability and strength in their favor.
“Any time guys have that kind of size, I mean, DeAndre creates matchup problems because of his size,” Texans receivers coach John Perry said. “Demaryius has done that throughout his career. You’ve got to have great hands to play at this level, and he has that. He’s got great size. He’s deceptively quick and agile. He’s that guy, a lot like DeAndre, that they have great movement skills for a bigger guy. So, that’s going to be exciting to see what we can do with those two guys.”
But not having Fuller changes the complexion of the offense. Fuller caught 32 passes for 503 yards and four touchdowns with 23 first downs on 45 targets. He caught a 73-yard touchdown pass in his final game of the season against the Dolphins.
Defensive backs were unable to stop Fuller, a 4.28 sprinter, from running by them.
Fuller will be missed
“Will is a big piece to this offense because of the things we want to do and the things we like to do, require him to do the things he was doing very successfully,” Watson said. “It’s tough to lose a guy like that. But gaining a guy like DT and being able to include him in the offense to do the same thing that Will did, is a great addi tion for us too.”
Even with Thomas, Hopkins might shoulder more of the workload.
“You’d have to be living in a treehouse in the middle of Colorado not to know what we feel and how we feel about DeAndre,” Perry said. “We’ll lean on him heavily just as we’ve always done and I’m sure he’ll come through, just as he’s always done.”
The recent addition of wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, middle, gives quarterback Deshaun Watson another offensive weapon.