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Broncos say they won't drop the ball when it comes to preventing dropped passes

Demaryius Thomas and the Broncos had trouble hanging onto the ball against the Steelers. AP Photo/David Zalubowski

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The countdown to Sunday's AFC Championship Game doesn't mean the Denver Broncos can't find time for fundamentals.

After the Broncos struggled mightily to catch the ball their AFC divisional round win over the Pittsburgh Steelers this past Sunday -- the team had seven dropped passes from four different players -- wide receivers coach Tyke Tolbert got down to business in Wednesday's practice.

Tolbert, who has said last week that "practice is when you not only talk about drops, but you do something about them,'' put the wide receivers through "the gauntlet" drill that is used during workouts at the NFL's scouting combine in February. In the drill, receivers run across the field as passes are thrown rapid fire from either side of them. They have to turn to make a catch on the run and then quickly turn to face the other direction as a pass comes immediately from the other way -- over and over again until they reach the other side of the field.

Tolbert also donned hand and arm pads to jam the receivers before they turned to run in the drill.

"Well, (it was) a big point of emphasis today," said Broncos coach Gary Kubiak following practice. "We did a lot of individual work. A lot of throwing and catching. The thing that we've done as a team when we've had issues like that is we've bounced back from those issues. I can think of a couple of times during the season we had the same situation and we came right back the next week and made those plays."

The Broncos have had bouts with dropped passes this season, including the team's Nov. 29 win over the Patriots. In that game Demaryius Thomas had five drops and his only reception of the game, a 36-yarder on a leaping grab, came during the Broncos' game-tying drive in the closing minutes or regulation.

Thomas' season has been a study in contrasts. He had 105 catches -- the fourth consecutive year he has topped 90 receptions -- to go with 1,304 yards, both among the league's leaders. His six touchdown catches, though, were the fewest he's had since he finished the 2011 season with four. He's also had problems with drops, including one last Sunday.

After Wednesday's practice Thomas was asked if people ask him about the drops when he is away from the Broncos' complex.

"Yeah, I got that question (Tuesday)," Thomas said. "I don't say anything. I just say, 'We'll fix it. we'll be fine.' That's all I say. I don't really have any conversation with them because I get tired of hearing the questions about the drops. I got that same question (Tuesday) I give them an answer. I say, 'We're going to fix that as receivers.' That's basically it."

In the Nov. 29 game, Thomas usually found Logan Ryan across from him with Malcolm Butler covering Emmanuel Sanders. Patriots coach Bill Belichick is noted for switching things up early and often in coverages, though, so a team's receivers can have a difficult time settling into the game.

Kubiak said he remains confident in the group and expects them to close out more of the potential plays this time around, with a Super Bowl trip in the balance.

"That's what this league is about," Kubiak said. "Those same guys that missed those few opportunities last week are the same guys that will have to make plays this weekend for us to have a successful weekend. I believe in those guys. We just need to bounce back and they're working hard at it."