That goal has changed.
The big receiver's recovery from a torn right Achilles' tendon, which his surgeon originally warned might sideline him for the entire season, has gone so well that he didn't even start the season on the physically unable to perform list.
On Monday, Thomas, the first receiver selected in last year's draft, practiced for the first time since undergoing surgery in February to repair the tendon he tore during offseason workouts in Atlanta.
"He's running around. He's been cleared medically," coach John Fox said. "There was an option there to put him on inactive PUP, but according to our medical people he's good to go and he's obviously a talented player that we're looking forward to getting on the field."
When he'll play in a game is anybody's guess, but the Broncos must figure he'll be ready soon enough to make it worth their while not to replace him on the roster for the first six weeks of the season, especially because they're already keeping a roster spot open for defensive tackle Ty Warren, who is out until at least November with a torn triceps.
The task now is getting Thomas into "football shape, pad shape," Fox said. "And that would have been true whether he started the season on PUP or not. There's going to be a window of time to get him in football shape and that's what we're doing now except that we're doing it earlier."
Thomas' inclusion on the 53-man roster was the Broncos' biggest surprise of cut-down day. He had learned of the possibility last week when he passed a physical, but he kept it a secret even from his teammates, with his only hint coming in a tweet Friday that said, "Swear the man above do amazing things.. im feeling good cant wait to get back to what i love doing."
"We were looking at some of the game film during training camp and seeing some of what he was doing (last year) and I was like, 'Damn, like, we're going to be without that?' " Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Lloyd said. "And so it's exciting to see him out there because I totally was not expecting that today."
Thomas ran routes Monday but didn't overdo it on his first day back.
"He was out there running around today and looked good. He was out there making plays, so he's challenging us," wide receiver Eddie Royal said.
Thomas said he was able to do everything the other receivers did during practice, just not as much.
"I'm excited for him, and I'm excited that he's back," Lloyd said, "but I'm definitely going to be the voice of reason with him and making sure he's coming back and he's feeling great and is 100 percent, making sure he's technically sound so he doesn't do anything to hurt himself further.
"Because it's great having him now, but I want him at the end of the season."
Thomas said he could hardly lift his right heel off the turf when he reported to camp. Three weeks later, he started doing some running and lateral movements and things progressed quickly from there.
As to when he'll be game-ready, Thomas won't venture a guess.
"Well, basically, it's beating a defender and getting my cardio back is the first thing, because I feel like my leg is strong," he said. "But beating a defender, cardio, reading defenses, it's just the mental things. Once I get that down, I feel like I'll be fine."
Thomas was the first receiver selected in last year's draft at No. 22, three spots ahead of the Broncos' other first-round pick, Tim Tebow. But he had a rough rookie year after leaving Georgia Tech following his junior season.
He was just starting to flash his athleticism and mobility, using his 6-foot-3, 230-pound frame to out-jump defenders when he re-injured his surgically repaired foot early in training camp. He was knocked out of one game with a concussion while returning a kickoff and was also sidelined for the final five weeks of the season with a sprained ankle.
Thomas ended up playing in 10 games, starting twice and finishing with 22 receptions for 283 yards and two scores. He also returned 16 kicks for a 24.9-yard average.
Then, in February he was doing lateral footwork and conditioning drills at his alma mater when he felt the pain in his right heel.
"Last year, it was the foot and then it was the ankle and now it's the Achilles'," Thomas said. "I was like, 'If I can get over this, hopefully I won't have any more injuries.' "
Notes: Another player making his debut at practice was CB Jonathan Wilhite, who was ditched by the Patriots last week in their first round of cuts. ... Fox on why the Broncos didn't claim any of the 900 or so players they had scouted in anticipation of them getting cut over the weekend: "Well, there was only a few guys that we had interest in and at the end of the day it wasn't enough interest to retrain a guy for a guy that's already had five weeks of training in our systems." ... S Quinton Carter (hamstring) didn't practice.
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press