FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Demaryius Thomas says he's close. He can feel it.
''I can feel it certain days and certain days I can't,'' the veteran wide receiver said Sunday. ''It's a thing that I feel when I play. I've still got it. I know I've got it. I've touched it here, but other days it bothers me.''
Thomas, entering his 10th NFL season but first with the New England Patriots, might be another tantalizing option for veteran quarterback Tom Brady if he is fully recovered from the second Achilles' tendon injury of his career. But Thomas was activated from the physically unable to perform list only a week ago, and with the preseason finale against the New York Giants on Thursday looming in the immediate future, time is short for him to prove his worth amid a position group seemingly laden with talent.
''I'm a little rusty, but that's what it's about,'' Thomas said. ''Training camp is about trying to put out my best ball and see what I can do to help the squad.''
Thomas posted five consecutive seasons in a row with 1,000 or more receiving yards among his eight-plus years with the Denver Broncos. But he was dealt to the Houston Texans midway through the 2018 season and finished the year with his lowest statistical totals since 2011, catching 59 passes for 677 yards and scoring five touchdowns before suffering the Achilles' injury late in the season.
The Patriots signed him to a one-year, $2.9 million contract in April, with only $150,000 in guaranteed money given the severity of his injury. But he was deemed ready to practice last week, although he did not see action in the Patriots' 10-3 victory Thursday over the Carolina Panthers.
He said he has not been surprised by the quickness of his recovery, as it matched the timeframe of his first such injury in his second pro season.
''I don't think it's a crazy challenge and what people expect,'' he said. ''I just think it's a challenge of me just going out and continue to do what I've been doing my whole career. It's a tougher challenge because here, they expect more and it's a little different from where I've been. But I'll be all right.''
Thomas said he learns every day from Brady, the 42-year-old signal-caller and six-time Super Bowl champion, as well as from other receivers and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who was the Broncos' head coach at the start of Thomas' career.
''I'm learning a lot,'' Thomas said. ''Everything (Brady) tells me, I'm taking it in and it helps me out, just like with Coach McDaniels. Whatever they tell me, I try to take to the field. As a receiver, there are little things that you don't do so well and you want to do better, but you've still got guys around, from the running back room to defensive guys, to help out.''
The Patriots will have very tough decisions to make with their receiving corps in the next week. The release of veteran Maurice Harris on Sunday barely put a dent in a depth chart that includes Super Bowl 53 MVP Julian Edelman, recently-reinstated Josh Gordon, first-round draft choice N'Keal Harry, veteran Phillip Dorsett and surprising undrafted free agent Jakobi Meyers. Braxton Berrios, Gunner Olszewski and Damoun Patterson have also flashed promise, and veteran Cameron Meredith remains on the PUP list.
Thomas said that all he can do is to concentrate upon establishing a rapport with Brady.
''I've played a little football, like 10 years, so it kind of helps,'' Thomas said. ''Our main thing is being in the right spot and catching the ball right now. I've still got work to do, but it's getting better and better every day.''