NOTEBOOK: Rookie RB Thomas Able To Carry The Load

Posted Oct 20, 2011

Should circumstances on Sunday dictate it, rookie running back Daniel Thomas could end up shouldering the bulk of the load in the running game for the first time.

Veteran running back Reggie Bush didn’t practice Wednesday with a groin injury but he returned today and claimed to have been able to do 100 percent of what was asked of him. Head Coach Tony Sparano mentioned Tuesday that Bush could have gone back into the Jets game after coming out in the third quarter but they played it safe.

Thomas toughed it out for 47 yards on 15 carries in that same game after missing the game at San Diego two weeks earlier with a hamstring injury. He also sat out the season opener against New England but carried the ball 41 times for 202 yards against Houston and at Cleveland, respectively, and his history in college (545 rushing attempts in two seasons) points to Thomas’ willingness to become workhorse.

“I think Daniel is capable of handling any amount of work that we want to put on him, in terms of his mental approach and the physical style that he runs with,” said new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. “He runs a set of runs that we like to run very, very well. His pass protection has improved in terms of understanding Mike (linebacker) identification points and getting to the right spot and he’s a thick-body guy.”

Off the field Thomas is rather soft-spoken but he doesn’t lack confidence and smiled when asked if he could handle the full load at running back. He averaged 5.2 yards-per-carry at Kansas State and amassed 2,850 yards in those two seasons with the Wildcats.

So far what Thomas has shown Sparano, Daboll, Bush and his teammates is a strong running style and the knack for always getting positive yards and not going down at first contact. He prides himself on that but he also is eager to learn more from Bush and Steve Slaton.

“I feel like I’ve got a lot of room for improvement and there were some tackles the other night where I shouldn’t have gotten tackled,” said Thomas, who led all rookie running backs in rushing before the Jets game. “I didn’t feel quite the same as I did those first two games but I think once I get back going and get more game reps and experience I can do a whole lot better.”

Bush believes he and Thomas can be a “dynamic duo” and can provide a good 1-2 punch as a combination. He has served as a mentor to Thomas, and Sparano pointed out that Slaton’s addition allows some of that burden to come off of Bush’s shoulders.

Still, Bush respects Thomas’ strength and his running style and has seen vast improvement from the start of training camp. The fact that Thomas is cognizant of some of the little things he needs to do, like putting the ball under the arm furthest away from the defender so he can use his free hand as a stiff arm, is something Bush is proud of.

“Those are the little things that help you along the way to be a better player,” Bush said. “He’s definitely picking up on that but he’s still a rookie and he’s still got so much to learn in this league. You don’t learn it all in five games so he knows that and he’s just chopping away at wood and hey, we’re all still learning. I’m still learning.”

Thomas vividly remembers the play that taught him that valuable lesson as it came very early in the game right after the Jets muffed a Dan Carpenter kickoff and Miami’s Austin Spitler recovered at the Jets’ 18. He ran into the pile on first down and then bounced it to his left and almost broke it into the end zone but safety Jim Leonhard got a hold of his leg at the 15 for a 3-yard gain.

Two plays later Jets cornerback Matt Moore intercepted a pass and returned it 100 yards for a touchdown, and Thomas still recalls thinking had he switched the ball from his right to his left when Leonhard got a hold of him he might have been able to score.

“Yeah, he could have done something with his inside arm and he’s getting better and better with that whole thing right now,” Sparano said. “Sometimes in traffic you don’t like switching the ball a whole lot but the natural guys do it. They’re able to do it a little bit, but in that particular situation that was an inch away from being something really, really big and the ball shouldn’t have been back there. But it was just Daniel’s vision and his running style is one where his feet don’t really stop on first contact, so you better wrap him up pretty good.”

INJURY UPDATE: Rookie free safety Reshad Jones (knee) was held out of practice for the second straight day but this time was seen working with the trainers on the side. … Cornerback Vontae Davis (hamstring) joined cornerback Nolan Carroll (hamstring), free safety Chris Clemons (hamstrings), rookie running back Daniel Thomas (hamstring), linebacker Cameron Wake (hamstring) and tight end Will Yeatman (shoulder) as limited. … Running back Reggie Bush (groin) and wide receiver Brandon Marshall (quad) participated in full after sitting out yesterday. … For the Broncos, tight end Julius Thomas (ankle) and running back Willis McGahee (back) were limited. … Safety Brian Dawkins (head/neck) and wide receivers Eddie Royal (groin) and Demaryius Thomas (finger) practiced in full.
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