Denver Broncos rookie wide receiver Demaryius Thomas' long-delayed debut turned into a huge hit in a hurry.
The Broncos' top draft pick, Thomas caught a team-high eight passes, including a touchdown in helping Denver win its 11th consecutive home opener 31-14 over the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.
The reception total was one shy of Eddie Royal's team record, set in 2008 against Oakland, for most catches by a Broncos rookie in his first game.
But what made Thomas' first career performance even more remarkable was that he had missed all of the preseason and last week's season opener at Jacksonville with lingering soreness in the surgically repaired foot that he broke in a pre-draft workout.
Thomas only returned to practice without limitations this past week. But on game day, he disdained rookie jitters in favor of a performance that was polished and veteran-like, right down to his cool confidence, sure hands and smooth, measured play in the field.
"Nice to have him out there finally," coach Josh McDaniels said. "I think you saw a little bit of what we think he can be."
At 6-foot-3, 229 pounds, Thomas, who was drafted 22nd overall out of Georgia Tech, poses matchup problems for defenders even as he presents himself to his quarterback as a big target.
"He's a big physical guy. He can really run," said Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton, whose second touchdown pass of the game covered 21 yards to Thomas and put Denver in front 31-7 with 9:11 remaining. "There's not a lot of things that he can't do."
For the last six weeks though, Thomas hadn't been able to do much of anything, in terms of playing football. He re-injured his foot in the early days of training camp during team drills, and getting through rehab to the point where he could get back on the football field was tough. But as Thomas pointed out, working his way back was all he had.
"When I re-injured it, it was frustrating," Thomas said. "I knew to get back on the field I had to work hard at it. I got over the frustration and just moved on. The hard work paid off."
And not just the work he did as part of his rehabilitation. There was the classroom work that helped him stay on top of the playbook and the game plans even as he continued to build a relationship with his teammates.
"Basically, it was a mental thing, staying in the meetings, knowing all the plays and knowing what I had to do," Thomas said. "I just had to go out and execute."
The results were there for all to see, including the ball that he caught for the touchdown, neatly tucked into his locker.
"It felt good and I was happy to get it," Thomas said of his touchdown catch. "I've just got to continue on and make more plays."