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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Julius Thomas' dad likes to remind his son where he got his great hands.
Greg Thomas was a 6-foot-6 wide receiver at Pacific University in the early 1980s when his own NFL dreams were dashed by a career-ending knee injury.
He was in the stands Sunday night when his son tied Sterling Sharpe's franchise record for a tight end by hauling in three TD passes in Denver's 31-24 win over Indianapolis.
Dad showed he's still got it, too.
He made his way into the stands in the south end zone, where Thomas scored his trio of touchdowns in the second quarter.
After the Broncos' 6-foot-5, 250-pound tight end scored his first TD, his father hollered for the football.
"My dad, he's no small guy. It doesn't matter where he's at, he's easy to find," Thomas said. "He makes it down to that rail somehow, some way. He's got his arms open, I give it a toss over there."
The throw was so low Thomas feared his father might topple over the rail.
"I threw a bad ball, and he made a good catch," Thomas said. "Maybe that's where I get it from."
Growing up, he had seen those grainy beta tapes of his father that were part instructional video, part showoff time. But Thomas didn't inherit a strong arm — leave that to the Manning bloodlines — so he didn't want to risk another throw again after his first toss went so awry.
"Yeah, second and third touchdowns, he was waving for me," Thomas said. "I was like, 'I'm too tired. I barely got the first one to you. I can give it to you next week if you want it.'"
Thomas' size and speed, along with his power forward DNA — he led Portland State to the NCAA basketball tournament twice — makes him a prime target for Peyton Manning, especially near the goal line.
He set a franchise record for tight ends with a dozen TD grabs last season, and then was Manning's safety valve in wins over San Diego and New England in the playoffs.
The Colts had no answer for Thomas, who finished with seven catches for 104 yards in the Broncos' 31-24 win. His trio of touchdowns came in single coverage against two linebackers and a safety.
"He's a monster. A really, really good player," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. "He is a match-up nightmare."
Thomas' first touchdown came with Jerrell Freeman draped on him. He outraced D'Quell Jackson on his second score. And he juked safety LaRon Landry at the line on a 5-yard TD.
"It's like backyard football with your little brother or cousins. I don't believe you should be (successfully) covered 1-on-1," Thomas said.
Thomas also had a big opener a year ago, when he caught five passes for 110 yards and two TDs in a walloping of Baltimore that sent fantasy football players scrambling to their laptops to pick him up.
After catching just one pass in his first two NFL seasons, Thomas had a breakout year last season with 65 receptions for 788 yards.
After earning his first Pro Bowl honor, he spent time in the offseason with Tony Gonzalez to work on fine-tuning his game, especially his run-blocking.
That work shows.
"His feel for the game" is better, coach John Fox said. "He's been in a lot more situations now, whether it's in the blocking element or in the passing game. He's improved, and I'm sure he's a lot more confident."
He will soon be a lot richer, too.
He is making $645,000 this season in the final year of his rookie contract. The Broncos wanted to get long-term deals done with both Thomas and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas during training camp but failed to reach agreement with either.
Thomas is never one to relax, though, and he noted after his three-TD game that he needs to clean up some things. He had a second-half fumble and failed to corral an onside kick.
"Eric Decker did that for us a year ago. Julius was the backup. And so that's his first live one," Fox said. "Obviously, that'll be something we work on a little bit this week."
Thomas might also want to work on those throws when he gets the chance.
Notes: S David Bruton is day to day with a dislocated left shoulder, a result of a hit by Colts S Colt Anderson on a second-quarter touchback that wasn't close to being returnable. "Whether you like it or not, it was a legal hit," Fox said. "It's allowed in the game. I'll leave it at that."
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