Originally written on BroncoTalk  |  Last updated 11/17/14

Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning at training camp practice August 2, 2012. (BroncoTalk.net photo)

Peyton Manning to Eric Decker. Through the first several practices of Denver Broncos training camp, it was clear the two had a connection deeper and more natural than that of any other tandem on the field. Decker was Manning’s favorite target, and the quarterback and receiver connected for several highlight-worthy plays over the course of the first five days of training camp.

So when Decker sat out team drills during Wednesday and Thursday’s practice sessions with a strained groin, there was reason to be at least mildly concerned. Would the Broncos offense be able to perform at the same level without Manning’s favorite target? Could they survive a test of their receiver depth this early?

Enter Demaryius Thomas.

The third-year wide receiver, presumed to be the team’s #1 pass-catcher heading into camp, finally lived up to that bill as the team played it safe with Decker during team drills.

“Living up to the bill” may be putting it lightly. Thomas went off Thursday.

First, Broncos fans were treated to Thomas’ now patented stiff arm, with cornerback Tracy Porter the unwilling victim. Thomas caught a ten-yard toss from Manning before delivering the crucial blow to Porter down the left sideline. Demaryius then ran for the end zone before getting caught by a safety some 10-20 yards later.

Later, Thomas faced Drayton Florence, getting the better of him several times. One time in particular, though, Thomas faced the veteran corner on a skinny post route from the 35-yard line. Safety Rahim Moore bit on the formation to his left as Thomas got behind Florence. By the time Manning threw, it was too late, and Thomas was a step behind both of them. Demaryius leaped into the air to catch the Manning pass over Florence and Moore, landing in the end zone for a cheer-inducing touchdown against double coverage.

Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas makes a catch during training camp practice on Monday, July 30, 2012 (BroncoTalk.net photo)

“Demaryius is a guy who we’re going to feature his size and strength and speed,” Manning said. “It allows you to do certain things with him that other plays just can’t do.”

It was Thomas’s versatility that really caught Manning’s, and Broncos fans’, eyes Thursday. Between stiff arms, leaping end zone catches, sliding to his knees, and running a much broader spectrum of the route tree, Demaryius Thomas has excelled since the Broncos took a day off Tuesday.

“You can’t just throw it down the field every time, you’ve got to take a five-yard hitch or a 10-yard hook route and turn it into a 20 or 30-yard gain,” Manning said. “He’s shown those types of plays these past two days. It’s a real credit to him.”

Thomas has the highest ceiling of any receiver, perhaps any player, currently on the Broncos roster. It would serve the Broncos, Manning, and Thomas well to see Thomas live up to that potential.

Manning himself said he’s never had a receiver quite like Thomas in his Hall of Fame career.

“He’s the biggest receiver I’ve played with since I’ve been in pro ball, certainly, and like you said, he has that rare combination of size and speed, so I look forward to getting more comfortable with him and growing together through this process,” Manning said. “Every day is important.”

Indeed, Eric Decker’s groin strain may turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

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