In the 2010 NFL Draft, the first wide receiver to hear his name called was Demaryius Thomas, a little known wideout out of Georgia Tech. Prior to that day, not many fans knew who Thomas was. After his first two seasons at Tech, playing under Chan Gailey in a far more pro-style attack, Thomas found himself at, essentially, a service academy when former Navy head coach Paul Johnson brought his vaunted triple-option attack down to Atlanta. The change made the Yellow Jackets more successful in the Win-Loss column, but their talent-rich group of receivers suddenly started seeing far fewer balls coming their way.
Thomas, however, still managed to impress the Denver Broncos, and their coach at the time, Josh McDaniels. The Broncos took the 6-3 receiver with the 22nd pick in ’10 Draft, right before Tim Tebow, and ahead of the more hyped Dez Bryant. After a bumpy rookie campaign where flashes of brilliance were present but rare, Thomas got injured for the second time in his brief pro career and missed the first six games of the 2011 season. Even upon his return, though, Thomas was basically invisible.
But week 13 in Minnesota started a trend that the receiver has continued through today. He hauled in two Tebow touchdown passes that day in early December and went for 144 yards. A few weeks later, in an AFC Divisional Playoff game against Pittsburgh, DT become a national story, catching a short Tebow slant on the first play of overtime and going untouched for 80 yards, giving Denver the victory.
In his last 11 regular and postseason games since that day in the Twin Cities, Thomas has 56 catches for 1,070 yards and seven touchdowns. (Projects in 16-game season to 80 catches for 1,600 yards and 11 TDs) Going for almost 19 yards on each touch adds to his playmaker status. Now, as he finds himself paired with a legendary quarterback, the former first round pick appears ready to take off.
Before a mid-week practice in preparation for the New England Patriot, Thomas spoke to TDdaily about this, Peyton Manning and more.
TDdaily: Describe the feeling from last year’s playoff game with Pittsburgh when you scored that game winning touchdown in overtime.
DeMaryius Thomas: To get out there on the field and make plays and to do it in a playoff game, especially in overtime, it was just amazing.
TD: Let’s jump back to your college days in Atlanta. Did you ever have any regrets or negative feelings about your decision to stay and play for a run-happy offense like the one now used at Georgia Tech?
DT: At first our offense, we had Chan Gailey, but he got fired and then they brought in Paul Johnson. I was thinking about transferring, because of the offense he ran, and because everyone was telling me I wasn’t going to get the ball that much anymore. But, I sat down and talked to him (Johnson) and he told me that I would get my catches, I would just have to patient, and if I was, I would get my chance to make plays, which I did. I averaged like 25 yards a catch, so it wasn’t bad at all.
TD: Did you always think that your physical skills and potential, come draft time, could overshadow your lack of profound statistical production?
DT: Yes, I felt like that. When I went to the combine, I tried to take that really seriously. It was difficult, though. Basically in college I only ran a couple routes and NFL guys only saw me catch short ones — that I could run after the catch — or the deep ball; they hadn’t seen me run the other routes. I was taking the combine like it was going to be my chance to show them what I could do.
TD: How did your time at Tech make you a better NFL receiver?
DT: When I came in as a freshman, Calvin Johnson was there. I worked with him and saw the things that he did that got him to where he was at the time. Even when he went to the League, he came back and worked out with us at Tech. I was around him a lot, and, when he wasn’t around, I went out there and just played hard.
TD: Do you still work out with Calvin?
DT: Oh yeah, we worked out this off-season in Atlanta for about four weeks. We talked a lot about being receivers. Basically the same thing as its always been, just getting together and seeing if we can make our games better.
TD: Let’s move forward to Draft Day. What were your emotions like when you got that call from the Broncos?
DT: It was like a dream come true. You know, early on, I didn’t know if I was going to get drafted in the first round, second round…It was a big emotional day. I had always wanted to play in the League. It was a dream come true. To be the first receiver taken.
TD: Were you familiar at all with the franchise, its history or its fan base?
DT: I didn’t know much. I knew they had beaten Atlanta in the Super Bowl and that is probably about it. I knew they had some players before. I knew they had BMarsh (Brandon Marshall) and Jay Cutler, but I really didn’t know much.
TD: You battled injuries while trying to learn the NFL game and way of life. Were there any times during that first year and a half when you let doubt creep into your thinking at all?
DT: Yeah, after that last injury. I was coming back from that Achilles and my first day back at practice I go out and break my pinky. I started doubting myself, like I don’t know if football was for me. I talked with one of my best friends and he just told me to stick through it, you know. “You made it this far,” (he said). I was going to stick to it but I just didn’t know if football was me, because I was getting injured back and forth and back and forth. I had three injuries in two years. Serious injuries.
TD: What or when was the game when you finally felt 100 percent and felt ready and capable of dominating a game like you’ve shown over the last year?
DT: It wasn’t a game, man, it was one day at practice. I just basically started feeling good after going back and working out in Atlanta. It was just this mini-camp, when I really starting feeling back to myself before I had my first injury. That was the best I ever felt.
TD: You are still so well known for catching that ball that Tim Tebow threw you in the Playoffs against Pittsburgh. We gotta know: What was, and is, your relationship with Tebow?
DT: We still cool. I saw him at the end of the ESPYs, checking in, seeing how he was doing. He said, he’s doing great. It’s just regular conversation on the phone for the most part.
TD: It was a crazy off-season down at Dove Valley. Lots of new faces, especially the one throwing you the ball. You went from Kyle Orton to Tim Tebow to, suddenly, Peyton Manning. What was that like when you heard the news that Peyton Manning was coming to Denver?
DT: At first I didn’t believe it, but once I found out it was true, I thought, “Well, when are we going to start?” I’ve been watching Peyton since I was young and he was with the Colts. Guys always said that Peyton made guys better, and when we got him, I figured that “guy” could be me. And he has made me better.
TD: What has it actually been like working with Peyton?
DT: He is always working and he is always in the film (room), especially when we meet together, as the receivers and the quarterbacks. He actually meets with everyone; everyone —the skilled positions (players) and even the offensive linemen — has a day or time. He wants everyone to know what is going on and what he is thinking so we can all be on the same page.
TD: What has it been like with Peyton as the leader? Last year, there might not have been a clear-cut leader on either side of the ball.
DT: We had a leader of the team and that was Brian Dawkins, so this isn’t too different with Peyton. BDawk would speak out, but we had other guys like Elivs Dumervil and Champ (Bailey). Feels about the same (this year), but with Peyton around, you know how long he’s been in the game, and you know he’s won a Super Bowl, it’s a little different.
TD: A quarter of the way through the season, how do you feel it has gone both individually for you and, at 2-2, the team as a whole?
DT: I feel good about myself right now, but there are also a couple little things I can always work on. But my main goal right now is just to stay healthy and perform every week.
The team is good right now, yes, we’ve faced some good opponents, but everyone knew we basically changed our whole team. We got new players, so we’re just trying to get on the same page. The defense changed and we have new players there. On offense we have Peyton now. We think we’re going to be fine; I think we’re good. We probably could have done something different in the two games we lost (to Atlanta and Houston) but there are always things to work on.
TD: Is this passing attack still a work in progress and is the best still to come for your group?
DT: Man. I think if we can play like we did last week against Oakland (500-plus yards, 30-plus points) this is going to be a tough offense to stop. Last week, Peyton didn’t get touched, he didn’t get sacked, we had over 100 yards rushing…we are going to be a very good offense.
TD: What is your favorite route to run? Is there one play call in the huddle that you like to hear called? That new screen pass has been dangerous.
DT: I like that screen play probably the best, but I don’t really have a favorite route. I like to have the ball in my hands early, because I feel like I am a great runner with the ball in my hands. I want the ball in my hands early.