- Associated Press - Thursday, August 2, 2012

ENGLEWOOD, COLO. (AP) - Even with Eric Decker down, Peyton Manning didn’t miss a beat.

Decker has been the star of the Broncos’ training camp so far, but when he went out with a strained groin, Demaryius Thomas stepped up to solidify his standing in Manning’s eyes and with Denver’s refurbished offense.

Thomas made several big catches Thursday, even turning a rare wobbly pass from Manning into a 35-yard TD when he outleapt Drayton Florence and Raheem Moore at the goal line. Another time, he gave Tracy Porter a taste of the stiff-arm he used on Ike Taylor to beat Pittsburgh in the playoffs.

Whether on posts, curls or slants, Thomas was there to haul in Manning’s fastballs during the no-huddle work to the delight of yet another record crowd _ 5,034 _ at Dove Valley.

“Well, I think Demaryius has had a really good camp even when Eric’s been practicing,” Manning said. “Demaryius is a guy that we are going to feature. His size and strength and speed just allows you to do certain things with him that other players just can’t do. And so, Eric’s had a really good camp. He’s just got a little tweak, hopefully he’ll be back this afternoon or tomorrow.

“But I thought Demaryius these last two days has really made some big plays, he’s done some good things with the ball after the catch, which is what we’re going to need,” Manning added.

After all, Manning’s game is built on finding the hole in the defense and getting the ball there as quickly as possible so his receiver can use his legs to turn short passes into long plays.

“You can’t just throw down the field every time,” Manning said. “You’ve got to be able to take a 5-yard hitch or a little 10-yard hook route and turn it into a 20-yard or a 30-yard gain and he’s kind of shown those type of plays these past two days.”

Good thing, too, because Thomas had some catching up to do.

The oft-injured Thomas needed an operation to remove pins from his left thumb this offseason and was sidelined when Manning signed with the Broncos (No. 10 in the AP Pro32) in March.

So, he was rehabbing while Manning was throwing tons of passes to Decker at local high school football fields while working his way back from a nerve problem in his neck that caused him to miss all of last season and led to his release by the Indianapolis Colts.

Thomas returned to the field in May and quickly made a big impression on Manning, who never had such a huge target in Indy.

“He’s the biggest receiver I’ve played with since I’ve been in pro ball, certainly,” Manning said. “He has that rare combination of size and speed. So, I look forward just to getting more and more comfortable with him and just kind of growing through this process.

“And every day is important with not just him but all of the receivers as we work together to get on the same page in many different phases.”

Also making plays and an early impression on Manning is free agent receiver Andre “Bubba” Caldwell, who signed with the Broncos this offseason after four years in Cincinnati.

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