Sorry, Peyton, he’s miles away, absorbing this complicated offense largely on his own.
As expected, Thomas was absent as the Denver Broncos started a mandatory minicamp Tuesday. The three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver is boycotting the team’s offseason program after the team placed its $12.8 million franchise tag on him. He’s not subject to a fine, though, because he hasn’t signed his tender.
Thomas has maintained he’ll attend training camp next month with or without a long-term deal.
“It’s going to get worked out,” coach Gary Kubiak said after practice.
For the moment, Manning is using the time to get on the same page with some other receivers, such as Andre Caldwell, who stepped in for Thomas, and Cody Latimer, a second-year player who struggled to get on the field last season and caught just two passes.
Kubiak and Manning have been in contact with Thomas, so he doesn’t fall too far behind picking up the offense. Kubiak conceded the receiver position is a difficult one to absorb in his system, given all the terminology, and his best piece of advice to Thomas is simply this – stay on top of that playbook.
Thomas is coming off a season in which he set a single-season franchise record with 1,619 yards receiving. He also had 11 TDs.
“He’s going to be here and be a great player for this football team,” Kubiak said. “It’s our job as coaches, when he does come in, to find out exactly where he’s at, where we need to go and make sure we have a plan to get there. We can’t just Day 1 say, `Go.’
“We’ve got to have a plan in place and we will.”
Thomas wasn’t the only player absent as defensive end Antonio Smith skipped the minicamp while prosecutors in Texas investigate a criminal complaint against him. The 33-year-old Smith has not been arrested and no charges have been filed in the case.
Smith was signed by Denver to a one-year, $2 million contract on April 2.
“Hopefully we’ll get some answers and move on with football,” Kubiak said. “We’ll keep our patience.”
In addition to missing his top receiver Tuesday, Manning also was without Ryan Clady, the reliable left tackle who protected his blind side. Clady tore his left ACL two weeks ago and is done for the season. Rookie Ty Sambrailo gets the first chance to win the job.
So far, Kubiak likes what he sees from Sambrailo. Then again, this is just minicamp.
“After we drafted him, the thing we knew we had to improve upon was his strength,” Kubiak said. “We’re not going to find out how much we’ve improved there until we put the pads on.”
Should Sambrailo stumble, waiting in the wings is Michael Schofield, the versatile lineman out of Michigan whom the Broncos drafted in the third round in 2014.
“I saw Michael really respond when Clady went down. I think all of a sudden I watched him practice different, almost like, `Uh-oh, I better pick this up,’ and he has,” Kubiak said. “That’s the way it works. They’re smart enough to know that someone is going to win that job. It’s extremely important to our team that they play at a high level.”
First-round pick Shane Ray saw some field time Tuesday as his foot continues to heal. He had been sidelined with a toe injury since the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1.
“I don’t have any more pain in my foot,” Ray said. “It’s not something I even think about anymore. I come out here every day just to learn and get better any way I can.”
NOTES: DE/OLB DeMarcus Ware said he recently taped an episode of “Family Feud” with fellow AFC players Antonio Gates, Antonio Brown, Terrell Suggs and Nick Mangold on his team. “Stay tuned for what happens, but it’s going to be really, really funny,” Ware said.
By Pat Graham, AP Sports Writer
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