Demaryius Thomas is smiling again. The pain in his left hip is gone. Mike McCoy is here again.
Thomas expects these two developments to help him have a resurgent 2017 season and fulfill new coach Vance Joseph’s plea to be a more consistent leader.
Thomas hobbled through much of last season with a painful hip injury but still managed his fifth consecutive 90-catch, 1,000-yard season.
Probably nobody in Denver was happier than Thomas when McCoy returned as Denver’s offensive coordinator after four seasons as head coach of the Chargers. Thomas spent his first three seasons in the NFL with McCoy calling the plays and he thrived whether it was Tim Tebow or Peyton Manning throwing to him.
Thomas eagerly awaits the return of his signature screen plays, the ones he routinely turned into huge gains and touchdowns.
“That was one of my first thoughts — the screen passes,” Thomas said. “I remember talking to (wide receivers coach) Tyke (Tolbert) and he was mentioning the same thing. The years we played together with Mike were some of my best years. I look forward to it this year, as well.”
Thomas figures McCoy’s play calls — whether they’re to Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch — will help him be the type of leader Joseph wants him to become.
At the annual NFL meetings last month, Joseph called out Thomas, saying, “I want him to be a dominant player all the time, I don’t want him to ease into games. … It’s time. He’s a great player. He can take over a game, but I want his mindset to be every game we play to walk on the field and take over a game.”
Thomas welcomed the challenge.
“It means a lot,” he said. “Definitely, the first thing I thought was more opportunities and chances to get the ball more, but also be that guy to get the offense sparking.”
He thinks he’ll be able to do that now that his hip isn’t barking at him like it did most of last season.
“It was bad at times. It got worse sometimes. I never thought about surgery. I could get it, but I don’t think I really need it right now,” Thomas said. “I feel great. I’ve been running routes and it hasn’t been bothering me. It just depends on how you get hit now. It’s basically maintaining the hips.”
Thomas fought through the injury and was able to catch 90 passes for 1,083 yards and five TDs, but he was clearly hampered almost the entire season.
“It was tough. Sometimes I couldn’t stop and sometimes I couldn’t run certain routes that I wanted to run. Sometimes I couldn’t get off press because I had no power in it,” Thomas said. “But it wasn’t my excuse. I was out there, going out, trying to help my teammates out and trying not to make it look bad on my part.”
Thomas has had problems with the hip for years as he takes massive hits from defensive backs who need extra oomph to take down a 6-foot-3, 230-pound receiver. But he declined to say specifically what was wrong with his hip.
“I forget,” he cracked.
Yet, he insisted it won’t be a problem again this season.
“No, it won’t. I’m going to be on top of it,” he said. “I’m going to do whatever I need to do to be 100 (percent).”
When the Broncos began their offseason program this week, Joseph said the QB job is an open competition between Siemian, the incumbent, and Lynch, the 2016 first-rounder.
That uncertainty doesn’t seem to bother Thomas, an eighth-year pro and the longest-tenured member of the team.
“I’m kind of used to it now,” Thomas said. “We’ve got a new team, new coach and new faces all around. I think it’s going to be a competition from my position to the quarterback position to the offensive line position. That will only make it better to see who is going to be out fighting with you.
“We’re all excited. Those guys are ready to work. I’ve been talking to both of them. I’m fine with playing with either one, whoever becomes the top guy.”