All-Pro Clady back at practice, but Thomas might miss opener

Even on a day when the Denver Broncos were abuzz over All-Pro left tackle Ryan Clady's return, there were renewed concerns about their top draft pick, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas.

While Clady practiced Wednesday for the first time since he blew out his left knee during a pickup basketball game in April, Thomas received more medical tests on his surgically repaired left foot.

*The Denver Post* reported that X-rays and an MRI exam on Thomas' foot didn't reveal a stress fracture as previously feared. However, it is unlikely he will be available for the Broncos' season opener Sept. 12 against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Thomas broke the foot in pre-draft workouts and aggravated it Aug. 7 during a scrimmage at Invesco Field. He returned to practice on a limited basis Tuesday, but he missed both the walkthrough and workout Wednesday.

Broncos coach Josh McDaniels held his news conference before the player access period and didn't mention Thomas, the talented big target from Georgia Tech whose size (6-foot-3, 230 pounds) and speed could make him an impact player when healthy.

Thomas was selected with the 22nd overall pick in the draft, three spots ahead of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow (ribs), who practiced Wednesday for the first time in eight days, as did tailback LenDale White (ankle), who had been out since Aug. 6.

Despite the uncertainly swirling around Thomas, Clady's return seemed to energize the Broncos.

"I heard some of the defensive players talking about it. Some of the guys that have never seen him play, they're excited. The quarterback is obviously excited," McDaniels said. "But I think the guys who have played in that spot have done a good job, too, and they're going to have to continue to do a good job because Ryan isn't quite ready to go out there and play 75 plays at this point."

When he will is anybody's guess.

Clady said he is shooting to be in the starting lineup when the Broncos open the season, just six months after tearing his left patellar tendon, an injury that sometimes requires a recovery twice as long.

"It feels good," Clady said in his first interview since being hurt. "I'm just trying to get back to full speed."

Clady, who donned an orange "no contact" jersey, has a lot of catching up to do on the football field, but the extra time he has spent in the weight room should help him protect quarterback Kyle Orton's blindside.

"My upper body is pretty strong right now," Clady said, "so I feel pretty good about that."

He pledged that his days of playing hoops are over, too.

"It's just something I do in the offseason to try and stay in shape," Clady said. "I won't do that any more. So we won't have this discussion again."

Clady said it was hard to sit and watch as the Broncos break in a beefier offensive line that will include two rookie starters and, until he returns, journeyman left tackle D'Anthony Batiste, who has started four games in a four-year career that has taken him through Carolina, Dallas, Atlanta, Washington and Denver.

"You want to be out there with the guys and also getting better every day," Clady said. "It's a step back I took. But I'm moving forward every day and trying to improve."

Orton, who has guided Denver to touchdowns on four of seven drives this preseason despite patchwork protection, a revolving door of receivers and a turnstile of tailbacks, said it's critical to get the starting offensive line jelling over the next three weeks.

"It's not five individuals out there, it's a group out there playing," Orton said. "So you've got to get the timing and all the calls that you want to make, so that's important. But more importantly, we want the guys healthy."

Having Clady in the game will change the protection packages and also the plays Orton can call.

"You can make small differences in play calls to help out with your backup tackle or whatever, but usually when you have the big guy back there, he's 1-on-1, and everybody knows that," Orton said.

Clady is only the fifth left tackle to earn All-Pro status by his second season since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, and offensive line coach Clancy Barone said the Broncos won't risk a setback by playing their star lineman too soon or too much.

"We can't fast-forward the healing process," Barone said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.