Oft-injured Thomas is Broncos' new deep threat
Demaryius Thomas' goal as the Denver Broncos' new deep threat is twofold: get on the field and stay there.
Thomas has had more injuries than touchdowns since becoming the first wide receiver selected in the 2010 NFL draft, ahead of Dallas' Dez Bryant.
The burly wide receiver practiced for the first time in more than a month on Monday, the same day the Broncos traded Tim Tebow's top target, Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Lloyd, to the St. Louis Rams for what will likely be a fifth-round pick in 2012.
Thomas missed six games last year while dealing with a recurrent foot injury, a concussion and a sprained ankle, which limited his rookie production to 22 catches for 283 yards and two touchdowns. He tore his right Achilles tendon in offseason workouts earlier this year and last month shattered his left pinkie during his first padded practice.
''I honestly don't think about my Achilles no more. It feels just like a normal leg. So, just waiting to get my chance and get on the field and show what I can do,'' Thomas said.
Thomas said his fractured finger, which was surgically repaired, isn't an issue anymore, either. And while he needs time to get into game shape, he said he expects to play Sunday at Miami, when Tebow makes his first start since supplanting Kyle Orton at quarterback.
''I feel like I'm probably the healthiest since I've been in the league,'' Thomas said.
Without Lloyd, Thomas and Matthew Willis will be counted upon to stretch the field and keep defenses from stacking the box to throttle the Broncos' new scrambling quarterback and Denver's renewed emphasis on a ball-control offense heavy on hand-offs.
''He's got size, speed, strength, all the things you look for,'' coach John Fox said of Thomas. ''I think that's probably why he was selected as high as he was. We're looking forward to getting him back.''
Despite breaking his left foot in pre-draft workouts. Thomas was the first receiver selected in the 2010 draft at No. 22, three spots ahead of the Broncos' other first-round pick, Tebow. But he had a rough rookie year after leaving Georgia Tech following his junior season.
He was just starting to flash his athleticism and mobility, using his 6-foot-3, 230-pound frame to out-jump defenders, when he re-injured his surgically repaired foot early in training camp. He missed all the preseason and the opener, then had a spectacular debut in Week 2, catching eight passes for 97 yards and a touchdown against Seattle.
But he never tallied more than three catches in any game the rest of the season. He was knocked out of one game with a concussion while returning a kickoff in former coach Josh McDaniels' ill-fated experiment and also was sidelined for five weeks with a severely sprained ankle.
Then in February, Thomas was doing lateral footwork and conditioning drills at his alma mater when he felt the pain in his right heel. Surgeons had to repair his torn Achilles tendon, and he missed all of training camp and the preseason.
The Broncos kept him on their 53-man roster when the season started rather than placing him on the PUP list, but in his second practice he got hurt again.
His return to health was one reason the Broncos felt they could deal away Lloyd, the third Pro Bowler the team has traded in the last three years, joining Jay Cutler in 2009 and Brandon Marshall in 2010.
''We think it's a strength,'' Fox said of his young receiving corps. ''We've got some guys coming back - Demaryius Thomas, Eddie Royal - and (we like) the emergence of Eric Decker.''
Royal has been out since Sept. 18 with a strained groin and he, too, expects to play against the Dolphins.
''I guess it's just a business,'' Thomas said. ''With everybody getting back healthy and Lloyd gone, I guess we're just going to have to step up now.''
Thomas said that despite his injury history, he has no trepidation about going over the middle or taking hits.
''It's just a matter of not going out there and being timid and scared,'' he said. ''... I think I'm fine. If something's going to happen, it's going to happen. That's the game of football, but I think I'm good.''
One thing Thomas acknowledged bothers him is the pressure of living up to his high draft status, something he hasn't been healthy enough to do yet.
''Yeah, that's kind of tough because you know I'm a No. 1 pick but I ain't played but 10 games,'' he said. ''I feel like I need to come out and do some things on the field.''
And finally stay off the sideline.
AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton can be reached at astapleton(at)ap.org or follow him at http://twitter.com/arniestapleton