CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- A confluence of factors prompted the return of a smile absent last season.
Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas rediscovered happiness with a healthy left hip and a scheme designed to amplify his skill set.
"This is damn near the best I've felt in my whole career," Thomas said Thursday, his arms looking like he did curls before stepping to the podium. "I am happy to have the old offense back."
Thomas, 29, arrives at career crossroads. He ranks as one of the greatest receivers in Broncos history. And yet he has not played at an elite level the past two seasons, muted by a changed offense and poorly timed drops. New coach Vance Joseph challenged Thomas in March to be "dominant all the time." Joseph embraced the words.
"It's about time somebody said it," Thomas said. "I am looking forward to facing one-on-one coverage again. There's going to be a lot of people running wide open in this offense."
Defenses took turns taking away Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders a year ago, unconcerned with a viable third threat in the red zone where the Broncos ranked 26th in touchdown percentage. Offensive coordinator Mike McCoy features a diverse route tree, and if the tight end and slot receivers develop as hoped, it should force opponents to make difficult choices in coverage.
Thomas caught 90 passes for 1,083 yards and five touchdowns last season. It represented his fewest yards and scores since 2011. He received criticism for sagging production. But his left hip provided a reasonable explanation for the drop-off. Thomas injured his leg on the third series of the opening game against the Carolina Panthers. For the first time Thursday, he admitted it "never felt right again." It showed in his performance. He could not create space against press coverage and was comfortable lining up on only one side of the field. He plans to be leaner this season because of "the amount of running required" in the offense.
In the McCoy scheme, bubble screens allow for more yards after the catch, which shrunk last season. McCoy is counting on Thomas and Sanders to help accelerate the learning curve for the new receivers. Thomas played in McCoy's offense in 2012 with the Broncos.
"There are a lot of the same concepts we ran back in the day. He's done a great job of picking it up," McCoy said. "He's a great resource for the players. Having Demaryius and Emmanuel in the system, they're way ahead of everyone else."
Viewing practice remained unnecessary to draw this conclusion. Thomas' smile Thursday told the story.
"There is joy," he said.