Julius Thomas 'encouraged,' closing in on return

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – As Denver Broncos tight end Julius Thomas recovers from a left ankle injury, Thomas said Monday that it’s a yes-and-no proposition.

As in yes, Thomas believes he’s closing in on his return to the lineup.

And no, this current injury is not, in any way, similar to the right ankle injury that essentially cratered his first two NFL seasons.

“It’s nothing like the last one,’’ Thomas said. “No crutches, no boots, I’ve been able to move the whole time. It’s just getting that strength back. No., I won’t be flying out for surgery in a couple days.’’

Thomas suffered a right ankle injury on the first catch of his NFL career -- in Cincinnati in his rookie season in 2011 -- and after trying to rehab the injury and play his way back on to the field, Thomas had surgery on the right ankle in April 2012 and played in just four games in the ’12 season. As a result Thomas had just the one catch in his first two NFL seasons, having played in nine games over two injury-marred years.

This time Thomas suffered an injury to his left ankle in the first quarter of the Broncos’ loss in St. Louis. He has practiced just once, having taken part in this past Friday’s practice on a limited basis.

Thomas did some work with the Broncos’ strength and conditioning staff about two-and-a-half hours before kickoff Sunday night at Arrowhead Stadium. But it was some core exercises, some stretching and light jogging, and Thomas was a gameday inactive.

Asked following the game how close Thomas was to playing, Broncos coach John Fox said, “Not close enough.’’ Thomas said Monday that he feels like he’s closing in being back in the lineup.

“I’m encouraged with how it’s going, we’ll see how it’s going this week,’’ Thomas said. “I hate having to watch our team go out there and play without me … Got to be cautious, go to make sure everything happens in the right time and come back when I’m fully ready to go.’’

Thomas was on such a scoring tear at the time of his injury – he scored 12 touchdowns in 10 games – he still leads the league in receiving touchdowns despite having missed the last two games. Thomas is just ahead of the Steelers’ Antonio Brown, who has 11 touchdown receptions, and Broncos’ Demaryius Thomas, the Cowboys’ Dez Bryant as well as the Packers’ Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, who each have 10 touchdown receptions.

Julius Thomas has 40 receptions so that means 30 percent of his catches this year have gone for touchdowns.

The Broncos, in the two wins Thomas has missed, have rushed for more than 200 yards in each of the games. Thomas said he expects that trend to continue when he’s back in the lineup if the Broncos believe they can continue to have that kind of production.

“We’re going to go with whatever’s been working well and for us we’ve been able to run the ball consistently well,’’ Thomas said. “And if that’s the case we’ll continue to do that when I get back.’’

The Broncos had seven scoring drives in Sunday’s win at Kansas City, but five of those possessions ended with Connor Barth field goals.

“I can’t lie to you and say that I don’t picture myself making big plays,’’ Thomas said. “Even when I’m not out there … That’s absolutely how I look at it, I think you have to look at it that way. I’m looking forward to getting back, so maybe my presence can help from kicking a little less field goals.’’