ENGLEWOOD — Peyton Manning's top target is back. In the building, at least.
Demaryius Thomas returned from bereavement leave Monday, but his flight from Georgia didn't get back in time for him to participate in a spirited practice at Dove Valley that featured three scuffles.
Thomas missed the first five days of training camp for the AFC champs following the death last week of his grandmother.
Bubba Caldwell filled in with Emmanuel Sanders and rookie Cody Latimer also getting more work during the seven workouts Thomas missed.
Thomas arrived at the team's headquarters toward the end of Monday's workout. With a day off following an evening walkthrough, he won't get his first true practice until Wednesday at Sports Authority Field.
"We're eager to have him back and understand his situation and feel for him and whenever he's ready, he's ready," receiver Wes Welker said. "We know what type of player he is, what type of person he is and we're eager to have him out here on this football field with us."
The Broncos won't turn him loose right away.
"Once he gets back he will just jump right in (but) we'll probably be smart with him, make sure that we don't do anything crazy," offensive coordinator Adam Gase said. "He's not going to come out here and just run all go routes — none of that on the first day. We'll work him back in, we'll be smart, make sure he gets caught up to speed with his conditioning but then he will slide right in. The mental aspect of the game with him is a non-issue."
Thomas caught a team-best 92 passes for 1,430 yards and 14 touchdowns last year. He also set a Super Bowl record with 13 receptions.
He's entering the final year of his rookie contract and his agent and the Broncos have exchanged proposals on a long-term deal.
Denver's defense was missing its star on Monday, too. DeMarcus Ware bruised his right leg Sunday during a practice at the Broncos' stadium and was replaced in the front-line defense by Quanterus Smith, who had an impressive day that included a sack.
With their third padded practice so far, the Broncos instituted live drills and tempers flared several times.
"I think it's a good thing, builds character," defensive lineman Malik Jackson said. "As long as we don't take it into the locker room, I think we're cool. So, a little fight never hurt anybody."
When things got chippy, teammates joined in the fracas.
"When one guy's fighting, we've all got to fight," said defensive end Derek Wolfe, who ended up in the middle of two of the scrums.
"Camp's long," Wolfe said. "It's the dog days. People get frustrated. It's hot. People are tired. Some people are on the bubble so they're pushing it. Another guy might not be going as hard. So, they end up getting in a fight. And if one guy on defense is in a fight, we're all in a fight. That's just how we are."
Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter:http://twitter.com/arniestapleton