- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 23, 2012

ENGLEWOOD, COLO. (AP) - Peyton Manning’s two biggest targets are a pair of promising young receivers who have already made their mark in the NFL despite spending lots of time on the sideline.

Neither Demaryius Thomas nor Eric Decker has put together a complete season in the NFL _ or, for that matter, a full offseason. Both missed much of the lead-up to their rookie year in 2010 with foot injuries. Last year there was the lockout, plus another injury for Thomas.

Decker shined for two months last season but faded after Tim Tebow took over at quarterback for Kyle Orton. Thomas missed the first half of the season with a torn Achilles tendon and a shattered thumb but was unstoppable down the stretch.

Decker went down with a knee injury early in the Denver Broncos' wild-card playoff game against Pittsburgh, and Thomas stepped up with four catches for 204 yards, including an 80-yard TD catch from Tebow on the first play of overtime.

Like Kirk Gibson’s improbable homer off Dennis Eckersley in the 1988 World Series, it’s an electrifying, iconic moment in sports that’s been replayed countless times.

“Yeah, I’ve replayed it a couple times myself,” Thomas said Wednesday. “I actually replayed it last night. I was in my bed on I was on the computer and I typed my name in.”

He said it was just as thrilling watching it for the thousandth time on YouTube as it was on that January night in Denver when he dashed into history.

“Yeah, it puts chills in my body,” said Thomas, who has been dogged by a broken foot, sprained ankle, concussion, torn Achilles and broken thumb since turning pro.

Once the season was over, Decker’s strained knee ligament quickly healed. He said Wednesday he would have tried to play in the AFC title game had the Broncos gotten past New England that following week.

Thomas had to undergo another operation to remove pins from his left thumb. So, he was sidelined once again when Manning signed with Denver in March and immediately began throwing passes to Decker, his new workout buddy.

Thomas insists he wasn’t jealous that Decker quickly formed a rapport and rhythm with Manning and wasn’t about to rush back to catch up.

“I basically just wanted to come in healthy and whenever I started, I started,” said Thomas, who returned to the field last month and has been doing yoga in hopes it will help him stay healthy.

While the biggest question facing the Broncos in 2012 is whether Manning can take a hit and get back up after missing all of last season because of a nerve injury that caused weakness in his throwing arm, another big issue is whether Thomas can finally stay off the sideline.

“That’s my question mark,” he said.

Decker knows he has to stay strong, too. He admits now that he wore out last season.

Story Continues →