That quarterback, of course, is Peyton Manning, who played for Christensen during his time with the Indianapolis Colts and with Thomas when the two were teammates with the Denver Broncos.
Manning had some great things to say about Thomas, who scored 24 touchdowns with Manning as his quarterback (and Gase as his offensive coordinator) in 2013-14 and earned Pro Bowl invitations both seasons. That only made Christensen more confident Thomas will be able to recapture his Pro Bowl form with the Dolphins after two sub-par seasons with Jacksonville.
“There’s no guarantee on any of them,” Christensen said of free agents and veteran newcomers. “It’s on film. I’ve seen it. Hearing Peyton talk about him and what he meant to the offense. (Head Coach Adam) Gase knows him inside out. Gase knows exactly what he’s getting and knows how to use him. (Gase) used him extremely well out there in Denver. I have great confidence that we will get that. It’s not a speculation. There’s some — as you like to say — empirical data. There’s data we can see, see him do it (and) see the things we need him to do. That always is encouraging.”
And Manning’s exact message about Thomas, who played only season of college football at Portland State after starring on the basketball team?
“That he figured it out,” Christensen said. “His figure-it-out factor was high. That’s what you look for. There’s a guy who came in and probably didn’t know a whole bunch about football, or played very little. His experience was very minimal, and then (he) came in and figured it out and then worked. (Manning) talked a lot about (Thomas asking), ‘Would you stay out and help me with this? Take me through this. Would you watch a little tape with me? Would you explain what you want on this?’ And he still does the same thing. I’ll see him in Coach Gase’s office and his questions are right. His questions and his process are right, which as a coach, (is what) you’re looking for. He said the same thing. I would speak of Peyton as almost coach-ish, especially at that point in his career. He goes to people (and asks), ‘How do we want to do this? How do I do this? Is this exactly what you want, or is it different?’ Those are the right questions to be asking.”
The Dolphins acquired Thomas in the offseason from Jacksonville in exchange for a seventh-round pick in the 2017 draft.
To provide an idea of what kind of impact Thomas could have, consider that his 24 touchdowns in 2013 and 2014 are just one less than the Dolphins career record for a tight end — Bruce Hardy had 25 touchdowns between 1978 and 1989.
“If you just oversimplify and say, ‘What can he add?’ In Denver, he added 10 or 12 touchdowns,” Christensen said. “That’s a gigantic addition. I went out to dinner with him when he came in for his visit, and the guy is a professional. He’s going to add way more than touchdowns — way, way more than touchdowns. I hope he adds those touchdowns, but the guy is a pro. He knows Coach Gase. He knows the system. He came up through the ranks. He has a great story. You guys will hear it when you talk to him, but (he is) a guy that hadn’t played a ton of football and (was) learning how to be a pro, learning how to practice, learning how detailed this thing is and figuring it out. So, his story and what he’ll bring to that locker room I think is really good. He’s a pleasant guy. He’s a pro. He asks the right questions. He stays with it until he knows the answer. He’s going to come in, in the evening if he has questions. He’s going to do whatever it takes to find a way to play good football. That’s what we’re looking for. That’s what we need throughout the thing — a detailed, professional guy.
“He has been terrific in the short time he has been here, and it doesn’t take long to see he enjoys football, he likes football, which is the other attribute we’ve been looking for, and guys that enjoy being in the building. He’s a pleasant guy. He has a good demeanor. He has got a smile on his face when he comes to work. That’s good stuff. A lot of times when you go get a free agent — a high-profile free agent — you don’t know what you’re going to get. It’s a reach, and all you can go on is second hand. This one, we had the advantage of Coach Gase (and) people knew him, and he has been exactly that. Coach Gase has been clear that’s what he wants. He wants guys that enjoy football, enjoy the process, who enjoy working, who want to be great, and he certainly has been that in the time I’ve seen him.”