Injuries at WR will only increase attention on Demaryius Thomas

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos watched a team with a long line of injuries at wide receiver cobble together enough offense to beat them last Sunday night.

And now the Broncos get to try it for themselves.

"I think guys have stepped up at different times," said quarterback Trevor Siemian. "The more we can get those guys involved, the better off we'll be. ... We've still got plenty of other guys."

This past Sunday, the New York Giants faced the Broncos just days after putting three wide receivers on injured reserve, including do-it-all guy Odell Beckham Jr. The Giants threw for just 119 yards and the team's remaining wide receivers had just two catches, but New York pounded out 148 yards rushing, snagged two interceptions from Siemian -- they returned one for a touchdown -- and won the game 23-10.

During the game, Broncos wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Isaiah McKenzie suffered right ankle injuries that will force them to miss some time, beginning with Sunday's game against the Los Angeles Chargers. Demaryius Thomas also was sent for an X-ray of his lower right leg in the third quarter, then returned to the lineup when the X-ray showed no fracture.

Thomas, often limping between plays, gutted his way to 10 receptions for 133 yards. He was held out of Wednesday's practice, but coach Vance Joseph said that Thomas, who leads the Broncos in both catches (28) and receiving yards (380), is expected to play against the Chargers.

"He'll be OK for the football game," Joseph said. "He needed one more day just to get it right, but he'll be fine for Sunday."

The challenge facing Thomas is that defenses were already sending plenty of double coverage his way even before Sanders' injury. Thomas doesn't have a touchdown catch this season. Now defenses will be even more inclined to double-team him in the weeks to come, unless the Broncos can utilize formations that prevent that.

Bennie Fowler had two touchdown catches in the season opener against the Chargers, and he will get more snaps in Sanders' absence. The bottom line is the Broncos will need him as well as wide receiver Jordan Taylor and their tight ends (Virgil Green, A.J. Derby and Jeff Heuerman) to apply pressure to defenses, or else Thomas will look like he's surrounded as he runs his routes.

Thomas leads the Broncos in targets with 44, but the week before the Giants loss the Oakland Raiders went all in on keeping the ball away from him, and he finished with one catch for 11 yards.

"Getting a chance to get out there and playing a considerable amount of snaps ...," Taylor said. "Obviously, the circumstances -- you hate injuries to be the reason why you're out there playing. But that's the way this business goes. Looking forward to making the most of those opportunities."

The Broncos also signed Hunter Sharp from their practice squad. The undrafted rookie caught the coaches' attention in training camp both on offense and as a returner. He is familiar with the offense and will be in the rotation against the Chargers.

“[I have] a lot of confidence that I have because I know the system a little better," Sharp said. "I've been here all offseason, so I know it pretty well."

Joseph agreed. "Hunter Sharp had a great preseason," the coach said. "He's earned a spot to be on our practice squad and now to be on our roster. He's also going to be one of our returners this week. Smart guy. He's very consistent and a great route-runner with great ball skills."

The Broncos will need it all to work to get Thomas the room he needs. He has not had a touchdown catch since the win in New Orleans last Nov. 13, a stretch of 11 games.

"All you can do is keep working," Thomas said. "We just need to get wins, no matter who catches touchdowns. Just get wins, that's what our mindset needs to be."