How Should the Denver Broncos Navigate Demaryius Thomas' Injury?

Adam Uribes explores how the Broncos can keep Demaryius Thomas on the field rather than the trainers room.

The excitement following the win over the Carolina Panthers on Thursday night was tempered by the news that star wideout, Demaryius Thomas, suffered a hip injury during the contest.

Thomas felt well enough, however, to re-enter the game, although he failed to catch a pass after the third quarter. The Pro Bowl receiver was scheduled to have an MRI and a second opinion about the nature and severity of the injury. his time with the media today, head coach Gary Kubiak indicated that Thomas would be returning to practice on Wednesday and could have practiced today, but was held out for precautionary reasons. However, Kubiak also indicated from his time with the media that Thomas felt better and responded to treatment but that he has not gotten the second opinion on his injury as of Monday.

From all accounts, and barring any setbacks, Thomas should be able to play in this Sunday’s game against the Indianapolis Colts.

It's great news for the team to have Thomas back and playing, but the news that the big pass-catcher is dinged up again is cause for concern. Thomas did catch 105 balls last year to go with over 1,300 yards receiving, but it was evident, especially later in the year, that something did not seem right with him.

A neck injury and several off-the-field difficulties were pointed out by Thomas himself as the reasons for his sub-par play, and the receiver admitted that his injury was worse than reported. With all of that put behind him and with a great training camp under his belt, it was assumed that he would return to the Demaryius Thomas of two seasons ago where he established himself as one of the top-five receivers in the game.

Although Thomas had been healthy recently, he did encounter his own problems with the injury bug during the first couple of years with the Broncos. Ankle issues suffered in 2010 led to him missing the last five games of that year. This was after he had missed a preseason game with foot problems that had sprung up during his first training camp with the team.

The 2011 season saw him tear his Achilles tendon in the offseason in conjunction with a pinkie ailment that would see him lose the first six games. Taking into account a significant shoulder injury suffered in Super Bowl 48, and you have a player with a troubling medical history.

Much like his teammate, Emmanuel Sanders, Thomas has been able to put those injuries behind him and take his place among the league’s best. Now with the injury troubles rearing their head again and following him into this season, eyebrows are being raised over the effectiveness of Thomas and what this will have on his play going forward.

The Broncos need to get out in front of the problem if they hope to have Thomas performing more at his 2014 marks and less like the shaken receiver we became accustomed to seeing last year. Surprisingly, the Broncos may have solutions in-house to take care of Thomas and his injury woes.

For starters, the team has a mini-Demaryius Thomas on the roster already in seldom-used Cody Latimer. In seeing Latimer the last couple of seasons at training camp, the size resemblance he bears to Thomas is uncanny, as both are built more like tight ends than wideouts. Latimer also possesses the ability to score big gains on runs after the catch and has the size and strength to go up and get the ball at its highest point, something he showed in college. As Latimer struggles to see the field, Thomas could use someone to spell him for periods of time to keep his body intact. In so doing, it can have an improvement on two different fronts, as this will help Latimer in his development and cash in on his enormous upside, while helping Thomas avoid some of the big hits that are taking a toll on his health.

A specialty of Thomas' has been the bubble screen. This gets the ball out faster to Thomas and allows him to make use of his running back-like ability to find cutback lanes for big gains, while also helping out his quarterback get into rhythm with easy passes out in the flat.

Who can forget the catch-and-runs he has had out of that old, reliable play, like the times he took it to the endzone against Arizona and Baltimore in years' past? In fact, it’s been the norm to see Thomas used more over the middle recently, catching short slant routes that help Trevor Siemian settle in at quarterback.

The problem with that is that it also exposes Thomas to big hits from defensive lineman and linebackers. Thomas is a bigger receiver for sure, but the number of hits he has taken over the years comes in direct correlation to how many time he’s touching the ball. Looking at those easy completions that are coming his way, Thomas has been targeted an insane 361 times over the course of two years.

Thomas is a physical specimen (no one discounts that) but the amount of time he's seeing the ball and the punishment he’s taking is getting harder to ignore the more he’s getting checked out on the sidelines by the training staff.

With bigger wideouts on the roster like Latimer and Bennie Fowler, it would behoove the team to think about adjusting Thomas' role in the offense, even slightly, so that it goes towards preserving his health going forward. Although a player like Fowler may not have the catch-and-run ability that Thomas has, he is a bigger body and when matched up on smaller corners, he as shown the ability to break tackles and gain tough yards.

If the coaching staff wants to keep the bubble screen in its game plan, they can always use smaller and faster receivers like Sanders or Jordan Norwood in that role as well. Looking at the New England Patriots, the team often sends out its shiftier receivers in the short passing game and getting good production out of them.

All of these things could be used as way to keep Thomas in the lineup and out of the cold tub. Thomas is one of the few players on the Denver Broncos right now that has the ability to break a game open with one play, or take over a game with his combination of size and ability. With the season just underway, the team needs to take a serious look at keeping him fresh and rested in order for him to be the player, that when healthy, he is capable of being.

Adam Uribes is an Analyst for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @auribes37.

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