ENGLEWOOD, Colo. - **"It's too easy!"
Julius Thomas' pronouncement during his celebration following his third quarter touchdown against the Jets could be heard across the country as CBS's microphones picked it up and broadcasted it on national television.
To be fair, as he has been doing all season, he did make it look easy.
On Wednesday, Thomas explained that it is a "different guy" who is on the field during games. He can't predict what he will say and do. He was back to his calm Monday through Saturday self this week and clarified one thing: scoring is far from easy.
"A lot of things have to go right," Thomas said. "First you have to find a way to make a play to help out your team. A lot of work goes into it, a lot of effort throughout the year. A lot of guys just really getting after it and busting their butts to go make plays on the field.
"Sometimes you get a little confident in games, and you start thinking it's easy. Then you get out to practice on Wednesday and Rahim [Moore] and T.J. [Ward] and Von [Miller] are doing their best to keep you from catching the stick route. It's definitely not easy all the time."
Thomas' league-leading nine touchdown catches are no fluke. For him, it's always been about solid preparation and continuing to improve. Last season, he exploded onto the scene as one of the best tight ends in the NFL, earning him his first Pro Bowl selection.
But, he refused to become complacent with his success and he is now just three scores away from matching his 2013 season total.
When Peyton Manning, Thomas and four Broncos receivers headed to Duke University in April to prepare for the season, Manning could tell very early that Thomas had put in time during the offseason to improve his speed.
"It just kind of jumped out at me," Manning said. "I think he did some things on his own, training, maybe out west so I have to give him credit for working to improve his craft."
Manning also noted that, going into the offseason, Thomas wanted to improve his route running, both at tight end and on the outside. According to Manning, Thomas spends a lot of time talking to and learning from Demaryius Thomas.
"He comes down and does one-on-one with the receivers and we watch one-on-one together," Manning said. "At the same time, he's trying to be the best interior tight end that he can be. It's a credit to him. He wanted to work on some things."
During this offseason, he spent time with fourteen-time Pro Bowl selection tight end Tony Gonzalez. Tight Ends Coach Clancy Barone coached Gonzalez in the Pro Bowl and connected the two when they were both living in Southern California. Gonzalez taught Thomas about preparation and how to get the most out of practice.
"He talked to me a lot about having a routine—when you go out to practice, you do the same things, you're focused, make sure you're ready for what's coming next, ways to work with your coach," Thomas said. "Me and Clancy have been implementing some of those: catching passes throughout practice, making sure that we go over the upcoming plays that we're going to run and just really being detailed about what you do."
"When probably the greatest tight end that's ever played tells you something, you usually have your ears pretty wide, and you usually retain most of the information that he says."
When Head Coach John Fox was asked why defense can't seem to slow down Thomas, he said "this game's all about matchups."
"You run out of guys and you can't double everybody," Fox said. "The key is finding the ones not doubled and that's kind of up to them and then we try to feature it to the other guys."
The Broncos have found ideal matchups for Thomas all over opponents' rosters as he has been nearly unstoppable in the red zone – beating Jerrell Freeman of the Colts, Eric Berry of the Chiefs, A.J. Jefferson of the Cardinals and Calvin Pryor of the Jets and other helpless defenders for touchdown scores.
Each week, Thomas gets a tape of all the big plays that tight ends made across the league that previous Sunday. He watches what tight ends from all over the league, not just necessarily Pro Bowlers, do to score and help their teams. He sees what they do, learns from them and tries to apply their success to his game.
"He's always worked hard, asked the right questions, done the right studying, learned the right things about the game and now you're able to really see his talent show," fellow tight end Jacob Tamme said.
"He did last year, too, but this year obviously he's on a ridiculous pace with touchdowns and all that stuff… Julius on fire and hopefully we can keep getting him in the end zone and keep that pace going."
For someone that played just one season of college football before being drafted by the Broncos in 2011, being a student of the game is a trait that Thomas has mastered. After struggling with a nagging ankle injury during his first two seasons in the NFL, soaking in information and learning from those around him is something Thomas is accustomed to.
"To come out and have the hot start I've had this year, it's something that kind of just happens," Thomas said. "You prepare for it. You train for it. Everybody in the offseason thought they would have two touchdowns a game, but it just doesn't always work out like that. I'm thankful, blessed. [I am going to] continue to keep working hard.