ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --Last year wasn't the kind of year that many observers expected from Demaryius Thomas. Most importantly, it wasn't the kind of year Thomas expected from himself.
This isn't to say that Thomas all of a sudden transformed from one of the league's best receivers to a mediocre one. A disappointing season for Thomas still saw him rank seventh in the NFL in receptions and receiving yardage with 101 catches for 1,304 yards.
But his rate of gains of 20 yards or more dropped, from one every 4.4 receptions to one every 7.5. His touchdowns fell from 11 to six. Worst of all, he was plagued by dropped passes that seemed to come at inopportune times.
"It was the worst of my last four years," he said.
Thomas dropped 12 passes last year, according to ProFootballFocus.com, the third-most in the league behind Oakland's Amari Cooper and Tampa Bay's Mike Evans. His rate of one drop every 9.75 catchable passes was his worst since 2012; in 2014, he dropped one of every 13.33 catchable passes.
"I had a lot of drops I could have made plays on," Thomas said. "I could have had a totally different year [if not for] that."
Drops are inevitable over the course of a season. But Thomas' drops were particularly frustrating given his experience and the massive contract that included $43.5 million guaranteed.
"I was probably thinking too much," Thomas said. "I wasn't looking the ball in. I was trying to run too fast. It was just simple things where I should have made plays."
The contract, the franchise tag he received and his decision to bypass offseason workouts after receiving the tag was on his mind and had an impact. Various injuries landed him on the injury report for four weeks; they exacerbated the situation.
But with his mother having been released from prison into a halfway house after having her sentence commuted by President Obama, his mind was on other matters.
Katina Smith is completely free to travel now, and saw her son play in person for the first time during the postseason.
"I don't have to worry about my mom; she's good. Contract is over with. I'm here now, trying to learn what I need to learn, so I won't be rushing it.
"So it's all football."
And it's all football from the start. He's caught passes from Mark Sanchez and Trevor Siemian at the workouts Sanchez organized in Orange County, Calif. He's watched film with Sanchez.
This week, he's meeting with coaches as they try to tweak and improve an offense that finished the 2015 season 16th in yardage per game and 19th in yardage per play.
"I think it'll be a big difference," Thomas said. "Coming into training camp, with trying to learn stuff so fast, it wasn't so easy with the new offense," Thomas said.
"Being here now, seeing it from the beginning -- we've got new plays in, new faces -- I think it will be big."
And it could be the biggest step toward Thomas having the kind of big year he demands.
The Broncos continued to prepare their bodies for a long, grueling season with the initial steps under instruction from strength and conditioning coaches. (photos by Ben Swanson)