It's a statistical line that measures football pain, perseverance and potential. It reads one reception, 5 yards, one tackle and 22 months. That is the road Julius Thomas has traveled into Broncos training camp.
"I don't think anyone was looking forward to training camp more than I was — that's a safe statement right there," Thomas said Friday after practice. "I caught as many bad breaks as you can catch for a while there, at least from a football perspective. But that's how life goes. You ride your highs and you've got to find a way to get through and ride your lows.
"And now I'm here doing whatever I can to do the work, to be ready for the opportunities that come my way. I lost a year and a half, two years. It's time to catch up."
Thomas has had enormous potential from the moment the Broncos selected him in the fourth round of the 2011 draft after one season of playing college football at Portland State. Thomas had played four seasons for the school's basketball team — he set a school record for games played (121) and led the team to two NCAA Tournament appearances — before deciding to try football.
Thomas then flashed that football potential as an all-Big Sky Conference selection with 29 receptions. He flashed that potential again during the Broncos' offseason workouts in the spring of 2011 and into training camp that summer.
The Broncos saw possibilities in a 6-foot-5, 255-pound tight end who could leave linebackers in his wake and overpower safeties. But then there was the catch, on Sept. 8, 2011, when Thomas was tackled by Bengals linebacker Manny Lawson.
"That's a long time ago," said Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey. "In this league that's just a long time, but we've all seen that talent, what he can bring to the table. Now it's just a matter of staying on the field to give yourself a chance to make those plays in games."
Thomas suffered a right ankle injury on his lone career reception and struggled through the rest of the 2011 season. After working out with Peyton Manning in March 2012, Thomas decided to have surgery to repair the injury.
That led to a missed offseason program, only four games played in the 2012 season and 13 games, including the Broncos' playoff loss to the Ravens, as a game-day inactive. That brings Thomas to this training camp.
"Losing about a year and a half in my development to get to this point, that's tough," Thomas said. "It takes a certain level of confidence and repetition to go out there and feel comfortable with what you're doing.
"Then you get hurt and you lose that confidence of playing the game, you have to relearn everything. I feel like it's just time for me to go out
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