In NFL locker rooms, the difference between a great year and a great career can be how a player handles his first experience with success.

Joel Dreessen was a solid NFL player who saw his share of young egos expand whenever they were fed by the spotlight. Dreessen doesn't see that in Julius Thomas, who ultimately replaced him as the Broncos' starting tight end.

"He's going to be a very special player," Dreessen said. "It was fun to watch him grow up last season. In this offseason, he really impressed me with his attitude and work ethic and how hungry he was."

It says something about Thomas that this testimony was delivered a couple hours after the Broncos released Dreessen. Not to mention what it says of Dreessen.

Thomas wasn't the first NFL player to break out from obscurity and have a terrific season. After catching one pass through his first two, injury-plagued seasons, Thomas made 65 receptions last year, 12 for touchdowns. He made the Pro Bowl team. He played in the Super Bowl.