At this time last offseason, Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas was rehabbing an Achilles injury.
Two years ago, it was a foot injury that kept the first wide receiver selected in the 2010 draft off the field during the offseason.
Now, Thomas is healthy and he's taking advantage of it.
"I'm excited, man," Thomas said, smiling from ear to ear. "I'm just excited to get healed and work with the team and not sit here and look around – to actually be on the field doing stuff. This is my first year in the NFL being healthy. I'm feeling good, I'm in the right shape, good size. It's just exciting and I'm looking forward to it."
Thomas has been in Denver working out with the team as part of the Broncos' voluntary offseason conditioning program. Earlier in the offseason, he spent time at his alma mater, Georgia Tech, with NFL players from around the league, including wide receivers Calvin Johnson and A.J. Green and quarterback Cam Newton.
There, Thomas took advantage of the opportunity to learn from an All-Pro receiver in Johnson, who along with Thomas is one of the bigger receivers in the NFL.
"It was basically just coming off a press and how breaking down the end of your routes will help you because as big receivers, it's different for us," Thomas said of the advice he received from Johnson. "Just small little things and just basically to work hard -- something good is going to happen if you keep working hard."
During the four games in the month of December last season, Thomas and Johnson tied for the league lead with 22 catches for 414 yards and three touchdowns. Thomas continued his late-season success with a record-setting performance in the Broncos' Wild Card Playoff victory over the Steelers, catching four passes for 204 yards including an 80-yard, game-winning touchdown on the first play of overtime.
Thomas hopes to carry momentum from last season's finish into the 2012 season.
"That helped a lot," Thomas said. "To me, that shows some of the things I can do. I feel like I can be better. I was going through a finger injury -- I'm not going to say I was in the best shape, but I played decently. I feel like I'm coming in this year being in great shape, no injuries and I feel like the confidence is going to build up and build up."
Entering his third NFL season, Thomas and fellow 2010 draftee Demaryius Thomas will be relied on as leaders among the team's wide receivers this year.
"It is their receiver group, it's their chance to do something special," said wide receiver Brandon Stokley, who was last with the Broncos in Decker and Thomas' rookie season in 2010. "The last time I saw them, they were both rookies, young pups. Now you can definitely tell that they've both grown up and have taken on the leadership role."
Thomas and Decker bonded early in their careers as the duo shared agents, foot injuries and even a house during their rookie season.
"We're all tied together, me and Decker," Thomas said. "We stayed together at a house for a year and we came up with this little thing when we were in rookie symposium before we came here. He was No. 87 and I was No. 88 and we came up with 'Salt 'n Pepper time.' We're looking forward to that."
Both enjoyed breakout seasons in 2011, setting career highs in all receiving categories and finishing as the Broncos' top two receivers.
"We're just trying to go out and help the team and just go out and have fun and just play," Thomas said. "Both of us have been through our injuries and ups and downs. Now we're both healthy, so we're looking forward to it."
With a four-time NFL MVP under center this year in quarterback Demaryius Thomas, Thomas is looking forward to building on his success last season.
That all starts with the work that he's put in during the offseason with the team's new quarterback.
"Everybody knows he's one of the best in the game, a future Hall of Famer," Thomas said of Manning. "I feel like just being out there with him, it helped because it seemed like he knew what was going on. He answered questions and he was like another coach because I was learning stuff from him that I didn't know. I feel like he's going to help me out this year."
Having spent the last two offseasons in the training room rather than on the field, Thomas knows how important the work he is putting in now will be come Sunday, Sept. 9, when the Broncos host the Steelers on Sunday Night Football to open the 2012 season.
"It's the little things – the extra time you spend with the coaches watching film or with the quarterbacks," Thomas said. "I feel like that's helped me and my biggest thing is just being healthy. I feel like all of that is just going to add up together and I feel like it's going to be one of my best years yet."