ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Some scouts call it the eye test.
And when Denver Broncos coach Gary Kubiak first glanced at wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, he saw a familiar deja vu mix of the past, the future and the immense potential impact of Thomas in the Broncos’ offense. That’s because he had seen that sort of thing before.
"I have," Kubiak said. "And there aren’t many guys like that around."
For eight seasons Kubiak was the Houston Texans' coach and for those eight seasons the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Andre Johnson was the Texans’ best receiver. Johnson had six 1,000-yard seasons in the Texans’ offense in those years and topped 1,400 yards in four of those years.
And now, finally, after a five-month wait that included a protracted negotiation on a new five-year, $70 million contract for Thomas, Kubiak got to see Thomas, listed at 6-3, 229 pounds, on the field, catching at least a smattering of passes from Peyton Manning.
Asked if he saw similarities in Thomas’ brief cameo in the first training camp practice -- Thomas worked the first 40 minutes as part of the Broncos’ plan to ease him into the proceedings -- Kubiak said two things stood out.
"Size, number one, that's the first thing that jumps at you," he said. "Those guys with that type of size are hard to bump. Workers. I know D.T.'s a worker. … Those are the two things. I think I'll learn more about him as we go. But when you're able to run with that type of size outside, it's very difficult for people to get their hands on you."
Thomas said he’s slightly lighter than his listed 229 pounds and wants to play at closer to 222 pounds. But after skipping the team’s offseason work, Thomas will spend these early days of camp learning the playbook.
The Broncos want him comfortable in the scheme and want to gauge his conditioning before setting him loose to practice fully. There will be a transition period as the Broncos are moving from a scheme that averaged 34 points per game over the past two seasons largely out of three-wide receiver sets with Manning in the shotgun.
"It’s totally different," Thomas said. "That’s what we got to deal with and make it work. … We ain’t looking to throw the ball every play and there’s nothing wrong with that. … I can say all teams with run games win Super Bowls and that’s what we’re trying to do."
Kubiak has promised the Broncos will run the ball more and more efficiently and the team is expected to line up in a two-tight end set as their base formation the majority of the time.
But that doesn’t mean Thomas and others can’t dominate in the passing game, Kubiak said. Kubiak has pointed out in his time as an NFL play-caller those offenses have fueled the league’s leader in rushing (Terrell Davis), receiving yards (Johnson) and passing yards (Matt Schaub).
A sign negotiations were anything but acrimonious for the most part, the Broncos had sent Thomas the new playbook early in the offseason and sent him video of practices in the team’s OTAs and minicamps in hopes Thomas would arrive slightly more prepared in the new scheme. Thomas, however, said he prefers to learn on the field and said he expects to cover ground on the learning curve quickly in the coming days.
"It’s different when you’re here," Thomas said. " … I learn faster when I’m here (in) meeting rooms and on the field. Just looking at it don’t really do much for me. … I’m not too far behind -- couple days, I’ll be fine."
Thomas has had three consecutive seasons with at least 92 receptions, 1,430 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns. He is only the third player in league history to have three consecutive seasons of at least 1,400 yards receiving and at least 10 touchdowns; Jerry Rice and Marvin Harrison are the others.