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Broncos want Demaryius Thomas to be 'one of our most prominent leaders'

"He's just challenging me to be a better player on the field, because he knows I got it in me," Demaryius Thomas said of new coach Vance Joseph. "I know that too." Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY Sports

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Shortly after Vance Joseph was hired as Denver Broncos coach, he constructed a rather hefty to-do list for wide receiver Demaryius Thomas.

Essentially boiled down to this: Dominate on the field and lead the way in the locker room -- all the time.

"That about covers it," Joseph said with a laugh. " ... I've watched [Thomas], coached against him, game planned against him. I've said it many times, in my opinion he can't be covered one-on-one and we need to take full advantage of that. And he needs to be one of our most prominent leaders. That's it."

Joseph wants the Broncos' quiet man to be strong of mind, body and voice. But Thomas' next touchdown celebration will likely be his first, and while his teammates see a side of him much of the public does not, it's clear Joseph wants Thomas to speak up and step up.

"I love the challenge, I'm excited about it," Thomas said as minicamp drew to a close last week. "Hopefully we get back to where we been. I really don't think he's asking me to be somebody I'm not. He's asking me to be the person I am, or like the guys around me know me. He's just challenging me to be a better player on the field, because he knows I got it in me. I know that too."

Thomas had his fifth consecutive 1,000-yard receiving season in 2016, and had his fifth consecutive year with at least 90 receptions. But those 1,083 yards didn't really sit well with him. That or the the five touchdowns -- his lowest total since 2011 -- or the 12 yards per catch average -- the lowest of his career.

And, as he says, "I can't have that many drops. I can't, that's not me. I put a couple hundred more yards, some touchdowns, and who knows, maybe a win or two, on the ground last year. I hate that. I'm still mad."

Thomas played in all 16 games for fifth consecutive season, but he wasn't himself. He was, again, bothered by a painful hip injury for much of the season.

Thomas had been bothered by hip pain often in recent seasons and traces last season's four-month bout to a hit he took in the opener against the Carolina Panthers. He said this past week he suffered a partially torn labrum on the play, but after consulting with several orthopedists, and the Broncos' medical staff, Thomas elected to not have surgery.

He did not have surgery once the season was over, either, but he did go in search of answers.

"I wanted to know what the problem was, why was it always tight? Why always hurting?" Thomas said. "I couldn't get all the motion through it, and the pain, where as the season goes along why is it so hard to stop it from feeling that way.

"I did some things, talked to a lot of people and found out I was overcompensating on one side. Of course I had a little tear in my labrum, but I've been strengthening it where I need to, to balance it out. If I can keep it balanced, I think it will help because it's been forever. I've been dealing with this hip my whole career. It's not 100 percent, but it's a lot better than it's been."

Thomas said he debated with himself often last season "if I was hurting us more than helping us trying to play, but I wanted to be out there, it felt like it was the right thing to do."

It's a familiar refrain for NFL players to feel better than ever in June. Thomas said he hopes to carry his current pain-free work through the 2017 season.

Because, in the end, Thomas says his plans are as big as Joseph's, if not bigger. He's comfortable with what offensive coordinator Mike McCoy has in mind and feels like McCoy, from his previous stint with the Broncos, knows him as well as any assistant coach in the league.

"He has responded in a big way," Joseph said. "He showed up here in great shape and he's engaged every day. He wants the ball, and if he attacks every game in that way, he's going to be what we want."

"I don't think I hit the peak yet," Thomas said. "I know a lot of people think so, but I don't think so and I'm going to show them this year. They'll find out."