Day after day of training camp, Demaryius Thomas walked out onto the Dove Valley practice fields and watched his teammates.
That was all he could do as worked his way back from an Achilles injury suffered last February. After foot and ankle injuries in 2010, it was his Achilles that now forced him to sit out.
And when he was finally deemed fit to return, a finger injury right before the 2011 season opener put him back on the sidelines.
“He had some injuries,” teammate Robert Ayers said. “You just have to keep working and keep fighting. He has been doing that.”
In yesterday’s AFC Wild Card game against the Steelers, Thomas was no longer a spectator.
He was the game’s ultimate playmaker, amassing 204 receiving yards and scoring the game-winner with an 80-yard catch-and-run on the first play of overtime as the world watched him display all the explosiveness he once feared could be lost.
Today, Thomas and his teammates reviewed the game film from that 29-23 victory.
And this time Thomas was happy to sit and watch, knowing the tape would end with his stunning score.
So were his proud teammates.
“You were anxious for it and I was excited for Demaryius just to see him watch (the film),” fellow wideout Eddie Royal said. “I just saw a big smile on his face.”
Thomas was all smiles today as he reflected on his dominant performance and the dramatic play that will forever be attached to him.
“It was amazing,” Thomas said. “I knew walking up to the line, I saw the safety come down, I was like, ‘This is going to be a big play.’ The middle of the field was wide open. All I had to do was beat the corner. Once I beat him there was nothing but green grass. Once I beat him I knew I was going to score.”
Thomas now has the confidence to know he can make those game-breaking plays.
In the final five games of the regular season, Thomas totaled 25 receptions for 448 yards and three touchdowns, giving him more receiving yards during the last month of a season (Dec./Jan.) than anyone in team history.
Then came Sunday, when Thomas took the term “big-play” to a new level, reeling in a pass from Tebow over the middle, stiff-arming cornerback Ike Taylor and running 62 yards downfield for the overtime touchdown.
“We see it in practice, making amazing catches and running past people, but I don’t think a lot of you guys really get to see that from him,” Royal said. “But that game showed what he can do.”
At 6-foot-3, 235-pounds, that is what scouts saw in Thomas when he entered the league with the Broncos as the 22nd overall selection in 2010.
Tremendous size, breakaway speed — and a lethal stiff-arm.
“I started throwing a stiff arm when I was in college. I had some big plays in college from a stiff arm … I think that’s the only move I have,” Thomas said modestly with a laugh.
But when the injuries struck, no one was certain when Thomas’ skilled moves and contagious smile would return.
Head Coach John Fox admitted he wasn’t sure what he would see from Thomas when he took over.
“We were aware of his abilities, so you kind of knew, but not really,” Fox said of Thomas’ early injuries. “He started to do it in practice. He had flashes and unfortunately he got hurt. We’re just glad he’s healthy now.”
Thomas cleared the mental hurdles that accompanied his series of injuries and now his physical potential it beginning to take over when the Broncos need him most.
“He found it within himself like, ‘Hey, I can go out here and play to the top level that everybody else is playing at,’” running back Willis McGahee said. “And that’s what he’s doing.”
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