Julius Thomas poised to return to lineup

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Julius Thomas wasn't simply going to say he'll play Sunday against the San Diego Chargers. Take out the tea leaves, read what they have to say and it's clear the Denver Broncos' tight end believes he is poised for his first game action since Nov. 16.

Thomas suffered a left ankle injury in the first quarter of the Broncos' loss to the St. Louis Rams. He was a game-day inactive against the Miami Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs.

This past Sunday, he was in uniform for the Broncos' win over the Buffalo Bills but did not play. On Wednesday, Thomas took part in practice on a limited basis, but following the workout he also declared himself to feel better than he has at any time in the previous three weeks.

"It's definitely been a much better week for me," Thomas said. "I can say I've been looking forward to this week more than I have previous weeks ... I keep getting better."

Broncos head coach John Fox was asked on a conference call Wednesday with San Diego media if Thomas was going to play. Fox responded "that'd be dumb" to reveal.

When Thomas left the lineup, the Broncos were in the process of passing the ball 54 times in the loss to the Rams, threw it 57 times in the loss to New England and 44 times in the win over Oakland. Since, the Broncos have won three times, having passed 35, 34 and 20 times in the victories.

Thomas worked out before the game against the Bills, even running routes for backup quarterback Brock Osweiler before the decision was made to put him in uniform. Thomas said it all represented progress but that he likely would have been able to play only sparingly if the Broncos suffered other injuries in the game.

"[I was] just trying to get back out there and trying to make sure it's right, though," Thomas said. "So working out before the game, starting to feel better than I was the previous weeks, it was something if they needed me ... if they needed me I would have been able to go in there and spell somebody for a little bit."

It will have at least some meaning if Thomas is indeed ready to return against the Chargers. Antonio Gates, one of the trail blazers for former college basketball players turned NFL tight ends, is among the players Thomas said he has watched the most as he made his own transition from Portland State basketball player to Pro Bowl tight end. Thomas played just one year of college football before the Broncos selected him in the fourth round of the 2011 draft.

"He's a big part of what they do on offense," Gates said Wednesday. "I love the fact, not only him, but the rest of the young tight ends are constantly keeping the tradition going and being effective in the passing game. I'm glad that myself and guys like Tony Gonzalez were a part of that trend -- scoring touchdowns. They're just keeping it going."