- Bill Williamson, ESPN Staff Writer
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Demaryius Thomas just doesn’t want to blow it.
He knows he has been granted the biggest gift of his football life. He must cash in on playing with Peyton Manning.
“That’s all I think about; just making sure I take advantage of this,” the immensely talented third-year Denver Broncos receiver said after a recent minicamp practice.
Thomas acknowledges that when he heard Manning had chosen to play for the Denver Broncos on March 19, he felt immense pleasure -- and pressure. Thomas knows this is his time to shine as a professional receiver. The option days of Tim Tebow have moved east.
Thomas -- whose 80-yard touchdown catch to beat Pittsburgh in a wild-card game is one of the most memorable plays in franchise history -- is relieved to be playing in a traditional NFL offense. Playing with Manning is even more thrilling. Yet, he says it isn’t always fun because of the pressure he puts on himself.
“Every time I make a mistake, I get mad at myself because I know Peyton is counting on me,” Thomas said. “I have to be good. Peyton picked the Broncos, and I have to make him know he made the right choice.”
Thomas shouldn’t be so hard on himself. The allure of playing with Thomas is one of the reasons Manning chose Denver. Manning has often referred to Thomas as having special talent and said he expected Thomas to have a big impact.
“He’s had a productive OTA session and minicamp,” Manning said of Thomas earlier this month. “I think he’s running his routes with a lot of confidence and making a lot of tough catches.”
Thomas was the No. 22 overall pick out of Georgia Tech in the 2010 draft. He showed flashes in his first two seasons, but the biggest question has been his durability. He missed an early chunk of the 2011 season because of a torn Achilles he suffered while training on his own, and then he suffered a finger injury while rehabilitating from that injury. Still, Thomas finished with 32 catches last season and he averaged 17.2 yards per catch.
The Denver coaching staff believes Thomas is primed for a big season in 2012 along with fellow third-year player and fellow starter Eric Decker.
Manning has a strong history of bringing along young receivers and expediting their learning curves. Thomas will be given the chance to fast-track his career.
Thomas does offer Manning a variation he has never worked with -- he’s a huge receiver. At 6-foot-3, 236 pounds, Thomas offers mismatch possibilities that the masterful Manning should be able to exploit.
“Peyton tells me all the time he’s never worked with someone like me,” Thomas said. “I’ve watched a lot of film from his Colts' days to get some pointers. There really weren’t any of his receivers who were like me. ... I know Peyton is looking forward to it.”
No one in the Denver organization is more equipped to talk about Manning and receivers than Brandon Stokley. He was one of Manning’s favorite targets in Indianapolis from 2003 to 2006. He thinks Thomas’ size will bring a great dimension to the offense, and he thinks Manning’s influence can make Thomas an elite receiver.
“Peyton’s really never had a receiver like Demaryius, and I think it’s good,” Stokley said. “You need a good mix of different types of receivers, and Demaryius’ size will only give Peyton more options.
“I think the sky is the limit for Demaryius. He’s big, he’s fast, he’s strong and he runs great routes for a big guy. And now he has Peyton. Really, the sky is the limit.”
Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. is high on Thomas and believes he can be a star very soon. However, Williamson said the challenge for Denver’s coaching staff will be to marry Manning’s precision throws and Thomas’ size. Also, Williamson said Thomas has to quickly adjust from playing in a college offense with Tebow to the intricate system with Manning.
Still, when the adjustments are made, Williamson thinks we will see fireworks.
“Manning and Thomas are two great players, and they certainly should be able to adjust,” Williamson said.
Thomas is determined to adjust.
“This is the greatest opportunity for me,” Thomas said. “I will make Peyton happy he’s playing with me.”
6dEric D. Williams
6dEric D. Williams