ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Julius Thomas might be in the right place at the right time.
After cutting Daniel Graham in February, the Broncos were tight-end needy. Their remaining tight ends only had five career starts.
Almost by default, Thomas and sixth-round pick Virgil Green were forced into extensive action as training camp began, and neither has disappointed. But while Green appeared to be more of a finished product, it is Thomas, the erstwhile basketball player who only played one season of football at Portland State, who has played with unexpected refinement.
Dropped passes have been common among the Broncos’ stable of rookie and first-year receivers and tight ends, as all attempt to find timing with their four quarterbacks — timing that would ordinarily be built during organized team activities and offseason workouts. But Thomas’s drops and bobbles have been rare, and his occasional work with the first team in multiple-tight end packages has seen him equal to the challenge, with comfort that seems to grow by the play.
The Broncos’ transition into full-pad practices this weekend only spotlighted his rapid progress.
“There’s more to the job of tight end than just receiving, but he seemed anxious to stick his pads in there in the little bit of pad looks we’ve got,” Broncos coach John Fox said. I think he’s a fine young prospect.
With the offseason schedule destroyed by the lockout, it was logical to believe that Thomas’s learning curve would be even steeper than expected, and his rookie year might be destined to be defined by refining and polishing his skills so he could be ready to contribute by 2012.
But even with likely free-agent pickups Daniel Fells and Dante Rosario set to be practicing by Wednesday, Thomas might find himself with a role far beyond what most could have envisioned for his first season.
THE EXPECTED ARRIVALS OF FELLS AND ROSARIO likely have more impact on incumbents Dan Gronkowski and Richard Quinn than Thomas and Green. While Quinn has distinguished himself as a blocker, he has just one catch for nine yards in his two seasons as a professional — hardly what one would hope to receive from a second-round pick.
Gronkowski proved serviceable last year after arriving via a trade from the Detroit Lions, and pitched in at fullback while Spencer Larsen struggled with injuries, but finished the year with just 65 yards on eight receptions.
Fells, meanwhile, had 391 yards and two touchdowns on 41 receptions last year. Even though he only started six games for the Rams, he had more receptions, yardage and touchdowns than the Broncos’ entire 2010 tight end group put together (27 receptions for 222 yards and no touchdowns).
Rosario’s 32-catch, 264-yard season in 2010 for the Panthers also exceeded the Broncos’ collective output, although his campaign was a letdown in some ways, as he finished without a touchdown for the first time in his career and averaged a career-low 8.3 yards per catch. His performances from 2007-2009 as one-third of the Panthers’ tight-end rotation is more indicative of his potential; in those years, he grabbed 50 passes for 630 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 12.6 yards per catch.
His familiarity with Mike McCoy’s offense will help, but
TRANSACTIONS/PERSONNEL NOTES: Linebacker Dominic Douglas was released …
… McGahee and wide receiver David Anderson were on hand at practice after signing contracts in the previous 24 hours. Anderson was issued jersey number 85; McGahee will wear No. 23, the same number he donned with the Baltimore Ravens. The number became free Saturday night when the Broncos released safety Renaldo Hill …
… Unrestricted free agent defensive tackle Marcus Thomas, a Bronco the past four years, was spotted on a balcony at the Broncos’ headquarters building watching an early period of practice as part of his official visit.
ATTENDANCE REPORT: Running back LenDale White sat out because of lower back spasms …
… Linebacker D.J. Williams sat out with a thigh injury. “We’re being cautious with (him),” Fox said. …
… Safety Brian Dawkins was in a jersey, but remained on the sideline for a fourth consecutive day …
… Rookie Orlando Franklin continued to work with the first team at right tackle. “I think he’s going to grow,” Fox said. “We’ve got a lot of offense in; the unfortunate part of getting guys into practice late, they’re a little bit behind. He’s still in the catch-up mode, but I like what I’ve seen of him physically.”
WHO’S WHERE: Rookies Rahim Moore and Quinton Carter continued to work together as the starting safety tandem with Dawkins watching and Hill released a day earlier …
… Tim Tebow was the second quarterback up behind Kyle Orton during the team and seven-on-seven periods of practice. He had arguably the best play of the day during a team period when he rolled left, directed traffic under the threatening rush of Jason Hunter and threw a 30-yard pass to Mark Dell in the back of the end zone.
WEATHER REPORT: It wasn’t humid, but it was hot enough to be uncomfortable Sunday afternoon, with temperatures spiking up to 94 degrees. By the end of the practice, the air had cooled — by a whopping one degree.
But as Fox reminded the media as he left to go inside the Broncos’ headquarters building, it was nothing like a typical afternoon at Panthers camp in Spartanburg, S.C., where sweat-diluted sunscreen seeped into the nostrils and other uncomfortable orifices and crevices.
If that sounds nasty, well, that’s the point. When I covered Panthers training camp for two summers, I always needed a towel on hand to wipe the dripping sunscreen from my eyes. If I forgot a towel, I was temporarily blind.
Camp in Colorado is exponentially more pleasant.
NEXT PRACTICE: Monday morning at 8:50 a.m. MDT.