Injured Broncos rookie WRs Thomas, Decker wait to get foot in door

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Tim Tebow isn't the only risk the Denver Broncos took in last month's NFL draft.

While all eyes were on the former Florida quarterback during the Broncos' three-day rookie minicamp over the weekend, two players who figure to have more of an immediate impact served as sideline spectators.

Wide receivers Demaryius "Bay-Bay" Thomas and Eric Decker are both recovering from foot surgeries.

"Me and Bay-Bay are kind of cheerleaders at this point," Decker said.

The two draft picks are the biggest receivers on the Broncos' roster, and they'll be expected to strut their stuff on the football field as soon as they're healthy.

Thomas, the Broncos' top overall draft pick, broke his left foot doing drills just before the NFL Scouting Combine. He said he should be able to run routes in two weeks when the veterans and rookies gather for the start of the team's offseason training activities.

Decker, a third-round draft pick whose collegiate career at Minnesota was cut short last fall because of a ligament sprain in his left foot, hopes to hit the field in June and be able to fully participate by the start of training camp in late July.

Although Thomas, selected 22nd out of Georgia Tech, and Decker, taken 87th, didn't get to show scouts their skills this spring, Broncos coach Josh McDaniels said he relies more on game film anyway and his medical staff told him both receivers are on target in their rehab.

The Broncos needed a big, athletic wide receiver after trading two-time Pro Bowl pick Brandon Marshall to the Miami Dolphins, and they got two: Thomas is 6-foot-3 and 224 pounds, and Decker is 6-3 and 218.

In Thomas, McDaniels hopes he has found Marshall's lookalike but not act-alike.

Despite three consecutive 100-catch seasons, Marshall's antics on and off the field made him a chronic headache for the organization. Thomas said he believes he convinced the Broncos they should select him partly because "I'm a good guy."

Thomas said living with his uncle, James Brown, a preacher, after his mother and grandmother were incarcerated on drug charges when he was 12 is what set him on the right path.

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The Broncos liked Thomas' character but loved his potential even more and made the former Yellow Jackets deep threat the first wide receiver taken in the draft. Oklahoma State wide receiver Dez Bryant went two spots later to the Dallas Cowboys at No. 24.

Thomas said he was surprised he was drafted ahead of the more-polished Bryant. After all, Thomas played in Paul Johnson's triple-option offense at Georgia Tech, a system that's considered ill-suited for the NFL.

Thomas watched the rookie camp forlornly.

"I want to do stuff, but I can't, so it's still tough," he said.

He's eager to get on the field because he knows he has a steep learning curve.

"It's a lot different than what I come from," Thomas said. "I'll just have to work hard."

One thing that could help him in his adjustment: the attention is all on Tebow, not Thomas. While dozens of reporters and cameramen swarmed Tebow coming off the field Friday, Thomas meandered off almost anonymously.

Is that a good thing?

"Maybe," Thomas said, cracking a smile.

Although they didn't participate in practices, Thomas and Decker said they got plenty out of their first foray into the NFL last week, attending meetings, watching film and learning the thick playbook.

Once they're able to get on the field and sprint and cut, Decker and Thomas will have to quickly catch up because the Broncos are expecting a lot out of them next season, health permitting.

McDaniels and quarterback Kyle Orton have both talked about adding more of a downfield passing attack, and these two rookies figure to contribute. The Broncos also will pay Thomas first-round money and need a speedy return on their investment.

Before he was hurt, Decker was considered among the top receivers in the country, and many scouts were projecting him as a first-round pick. Decker showed his smarts at the combine by scoring a 43 on the 12-minute, 50-question Wonderlic test that's used to gauge aptitude.

After his injury, Decker received a call from Broncos wide receiver Brandon Stokley, who suffered the same ligament injury in 2002 when he was with the Indianapolis Colts.

Stokley, whom former Broncos assistant coach Jedd Fisch asked to reach out to Decker at Minnesota, gave the receiver advice on how to deal with the injury, the surgery and the long rehabilitation that follows.

Decker said he's sure that he'll be doing fast-food runs for Stokley and the other veterans just because he's a rookie. As payback for all of Stokley's advice, Decker will have to do more than burgers and fries, though.

"Maybe a couple of dinners," Decker surmised, "and I don't know if I have to baby-sit his kids or what, but I'll help him out somehow."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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