Vet­eran Thomas adds wrin­kle to of­fense

Re­ceiver’s skill set im­presses Hop­kins, poses tan­dem threat

San Antonio Express-News (Sunday) - - Sports - By Aaron Wil­son aaron.wil­ twit­­wilson_nfl STAFF WRITER

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.

Wat­son en­thu­si­as­tic

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.”

Brett Coomer / Staff pho­tog­ra­pher

The re­cent ad­di­tion of wide re­ceiver De­mary­ius Thomas, mid­dle, gives quar­ter­back Deshaun Wat­son an­other of­fen­sive weapon.

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