That meant Thomas got a late start learning Gary Kubiak’s offense. Thomas didn’t look comfortable until deep into the season, and that combined with the drops and two big hits — one by Vikings safety Harrison Smith in Week 4 and one by Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly in the Super Bowl — made for a trying campaign.
“[Thomas] did a lot of good things for us,” Kubiak said. “But he would say, and has said, he has some things he wants to take care of, and I watch him in this camp and I believe he’s done that. He looks good. We want to get the ball into the hands of our playmakers, and he’s certainly one of our best playmakers.”
Peyton Manning consistently said, “There just aren’t very many people in the world who can do what Demaryius Thomas can do, who are built like that, can run like that and play like that.”
Which is why, with Thomas now an elder statesman as the longest tenured position player with the Broncos entering his seventh season, most in and around the team see him poised for big things in the coming season.
Thomas heeded the advice of former alpha players for the Broncos such as Champ Bailey, Brian Dawkins and Manning, and paid more attention to his diet and offseason training. He said he arrived to camp this year at 222 pounds — “the lowest I think I’ve been” — and intends to stay at that weight instead of adding a few pounds as the season wears on, as he has done in years past.
“Your body is the top priority, that’s what I’ve learned,” Thomas said. “There are guys who take better care of their cars than their bodies.”
After his first two years in the league, which included a fractured foot, a torn Achilles and a fractured hand, Thomas has started every game the last four years. And the frustrated guy, fighting another injury, who once stood in front of his locker in 2011 and said, “I was a little afraid of being a bust when I got hurt so much” is intent on lifting his game again.
“I don’t think I’ve hit my peak yet, I’ve got a lot of football left in me,” Thomas said. “I’ve been here seven years. It’s time for me to step up and be the leader I can be, I’m not going to be a leader like Peyton because there’s nobody like Peyton. But I can be a leader on the field, make sure everybody is doing the right thing, and I can be the player I know I can be.”
Tony Dungy, head coach
Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1996-2001
Indianapolis Colts, 2002-2008
Feb. 4, 2007. That’s the night Dungy led the Colts to a 29-17 win against the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI. It wasn’t just the first championship for the Colts since the franchise moved to Indianapolis before the 1984 season. It wasn’t just the first Super Bowl win of Peyton Manning’s career. It marked the first time an African-American head coach brought his team to the NFL mountaintop. (The Bears’ head coach at the time was Lovie Smith, so history was going to be made that day either way.)
The case could be made, however, that Dungy’s finest moment was two weeks earlier. Hosting the AFC championship game against the New England Patriots, the team that had knocked the Colts out of the playoffs after the 2003 and 2004 seasons, the Colts were down 21-3 with over nine minutes still remaining in the first half and were able to pull off a 38-34 win by putting the clamps on a suspect offense that really had only Tom Brady going for it. After taking the lead for the first time all game with a minute remaining, Marlon Jackson intercepted Brady, sealing one of the greatest comebacks in league history.
Impact on the game
Dungy proved that an NFL head coach doesn’t have to be a cursing, unbending disciplinarian to have his players follow him and for a team to enjoy success. Dungy does not swear, rarely, if ever, shouted, and is a man of great faith. He always wanted to make his players better, of course, but he also was committed to making them better men.
A big part of his approach came from his days as a player with the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he was a defensive back for two years (1977-78).
“I picked that up my first year in Pittsburgh,” Dungy said during a recent conference call. “Coach [Chuck] Noll was so tremendous in that regard, talking about your life and not just football. Yes, we wanted to accomplish some things, but you had to get ready for life, you had to figure out what you were going to be all about as a person.
“Also, [team owner] Mr. Rooney, Art Rooney Sr., when the rookies would make the team he would sit down and talk to you about your responsibilities and what it meant to be a Steeler and the fact that you were not only representing Pittsburgh and the National Football League, but the team itself, the Steelers, and you had to do it the right way. And that always stuck with me.”