Broncos’ Thomas rises to challenge
Among Vance Joseph’s first moves as the new head coach of the Denver Broncos was to issue a personal challenge to the team’s longest-tenured player.
Joseph thought the Broncos would need more from Demaryius Thomas and he wanted to make sure the team’s No. 1 wide receiver knew it.
Joseph’s challenge, issued in March before the team began its offseason program, was for Thomas to be consistently dominant, from the first minute of games to the fourth quarter and from Week 1 through Week 17 — and hopefully longer.
“He can take over a game,” Joseph said at the time. “But I want his mind-set, every game we play, to walk on the field and take over the game.”
It’s a bold move for a new coach to call out a veteran such as Thomas, who in 2015 signed a five-year, $70 million contract and has the second-most receiving yards and catches of any player over the last five years.
Thomas wasn’t offended — he was invigorated.
“I was shocked he said it, but I was low-key happy,” Thomas told USA TODAY Sports. “I had put that challenge on myself before he even mentioned it. Once I saw it, I knew was on the same page as him.”
Thomas has spent extensive time this offseason working on rehabbing a lingering hip issue that has bothered him for years, especially last season after tak- ing a hit in the season opener against the Carolina Panthers.
Though Thomas didn’t miss any games, he also never felt close to fully healthy. He managed to stretch his streak of 1,000-yard receiving yards to five years with 1,083 yards, but his catches (90) and touchdowns (five) dipped in the first year of the post-Peyton Manning era.
“I was never fully running the routes I wanted to do, or felt the way I wanted to, from hips up, even toward my neck. It’s better now,” Thomas said.
Feeling healthy for the first time in months has allowed Thomas to set big goals for 2017. He’s trying to be a better leader — albeit a quiet one — for an offense that lacked one last year, and on the field he’s focusing on using his 6-3, 229-pound body to win every contested ball — something that’s not easy to do in practice against Denver’s cornerback duo of Aqib Talib and Chris Harris.
“I still have more in me,” said Thomas, who will turn 30 in December. “This is going to be my biggest year all around for me. Blocking, catching, running routes, everything.”
As the Broncos wrapped up their offseason with a mandatory minicamp this week, Joseph said he was pleased with the way Thomas had responded to the challenge.
“He’s engaged every day,” Joseph said. “He wants the ball, and if he attacks every game in that way, he’s going to be what we want. He’s a guy that can’t be covered one-on-one.
“If we get single coverage, that ball is going to him. Stop him if you can.”