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Thomas making it look easy thanks to Gonzalez

October 17, 2014

ENGLEWOOD, Colorado (AP) — Julius Thomas says he was misquoted — by Julius Thomas.

After scoring his second touchdown against the New York Jets last weekend, the Denver Broncos star tight end screamed, “It’s so easy!”

Although his nine touchdown receptions are tied with Calvin Johnson (2011) for the most in NFL history thorough five games, Thomas backed down from his bravado this week.

“Contrary to my own statements, it’s not very easy,” Thomas relented.

He’s making it look effortless, though, thanks to some offseason tips from the just-retired Tony Gonzalez and a dogged determination to prove his breakout 2013 season was an appetizer.

“I wasn’t going to rest on what I did last year,” Thomas said. “I was really determined to come in and keep working and try to find every way I could to get better. Fortunately for me, it’s been able to show in production. Everything I’ve done now inspires me to work harder, so I’ll stay after it.”

Thomas’ position coach, Clancy Barone, called Gonzalez, the 14-time Pro Bowler, and asked if he could tutor his fellow power forward turned tight end.

Gonzalez, now an NFL analyst for CBS Sports, told The Associated Press on Thursday that he invited Thomas to his home in Southern California. They went out and played some basketball and talked tons of American football.

Not about technique or run-blocking, but “about the mental side of it,” Gonzalez said.

“It doesn’t matter how good you get, you have to keep looking for ways to improve. You’re always eating right. You’re always looking for the latest way to get your body quicker, stronger, faster,” Gonzalez said. “And then you look at the film, how do I come out of the break faster? How do I get guys to bite on a slant/fade faster? You’ve got to be obsessed with your routine.”

He calls it the “routine of greatness,” and one component of that philosophy was catching 100 passes every day.

“When your defense is doing 7-on-7, go get your work in when everybody else is taking a knee,” Gonzalez said. “And then after practice when everybody is going in, go get your catches. And then get more.

“It’s like a jump shot.”

Shoot several thousand and they become second nature.

“It’s the same with catching the ball,” Gonzalez said. “And a lot of young receivers or tight ends, they don’t get that. They think they can go out there and have three, four, five catches at practice and think their hands are going to be ready for the game.”

Thomas proved a star pupil.

“When probably the greatest tight end that’s ever played tells you something, you usually have your ears pretty wide,” he said.

Thomas’ tutoring sessions have paid off: He leads the NFL with 21 touchdown catches over the last two seasons, two more than New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham, whose four-year, $40 million contract last summer made him the league’s highest-paid tight end.

Maybe not for much longer.

Thomas is making $645,000 in the final year of his rookie deal. He declined the Broncos’ offer of a contract extension during training camp, and his stock has only soared since putting Gonzalez’s words of wisdom to work.

“You can’t just like football or want to be good at it. You have to be willing to sacrifice,” Gonzalez said. “And it’s not easy. It’s not an easy life at all. It’s staying after practice when other guys are going home. But those guys will all be out of the league in a couple of years. Or those guys had a couple of good years and then they were average. Or well, whatever happened to that guy?

“Julius doesn’t want to be that guy.”

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