One obvious absentee at the start of Denver Broncos' OTAs Wednesday was star wide receiver Demaryius Thomas.
Not that that was a surprise given that the franchise-tagged Thomas has no plans of practicing with the team until he has a signed contract.
But that didn't keep his teammates and coach from missing a guy who has been a key to Denver's high-powered offense since coming to the Broncos in 2010.
"When you're out there on the field, you certainly wish that No. 88 was out there," quarterback Peyton Manning said Wednesday. "I'd be lying if I said I didn't want him to be out there on the left or right side opposite Emmanuel [Sanders] during these practices."
But Manning, perhaps better than anybody, understands the business side of football. Whether Thomas agrees to a long-term deal - or ends up signing his one-year franchise tag on or before the July 15 deadline - is yet to be seen, but everyone from the head coach on down is hoping for the best.
"I understand it, and I want what's best for him. I really do," Manning said, adding that Thomas has been a good friend to him while in Denver. "He's my buddy. I keep up with him and want him to get back here obviously as soon as possible. I certainly want what's best for him, and he certainly deserves what's best for him."
After a bit of a rocky start last season, Thomas finished the year with 111 receptions for 1,619 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Pointing out that he considers DT one of the top receivers in the NFL, Manning said he hopes "there is that happy medium for both sides, and we can get him in here soon and put it all behind everybody."
Emmanuel Sanders and Von Miller actually FaceTimed Thomas on Wednesday from No. 88's locker before practice began.
"Von was like, ‘I'm wearing your shoes today.' I'm like, ‘I'm going to wear your shirt today just so you are out there with us,'" Sanders said after the first OTA of the season. "He kind of enjoyed that. I can tell that he definitely missed being out here, and he wants to be a part of this. Hopefully he will be back soon."
Head coach Gary Kubiak said he has been in touch with Thomas, and wide receivers coach Tyke Tolbert has talked to him quite a bit.
"I'd rather him be here. You all know that. He knows that. The players know that," Kubiak said of having Thomas on the field for OTAs. "You want everybody here, but you also understand the rules. You understand the situation, and you understand what's going on."
Kubiak added that he anticipates Thomas is doing what he needs to to stay up to speed, and the new head coach has every reason to believe the three-time Pro Bowler is doing just that.
"As a coach, I think you've got to deal with what's going on here and we've got a lot of guys working their tails off. I'm counting on [Thomas] to take care of his business. His history says he will do that. He's been a great player and a great person as well."
Sanders defended Thomas' decision to hold out, noting that playing a one-year deal is a lot of stress on a player.
"Of course when you're playing with a franchise tag you're going to be thinking about that. But at the end of the day, that's all Demaryius' business," Sanders said, adding that he believes Broncos GM John Elway and DT's agent will figure it out. "I think they are going to work it out and he'll be back."