By his own admission, he squandered a great opportunity last summer and he’s going to do everything in his power to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
As was the case in the early days of training camp last summer, Thomas practiced with the first-team offensive line throughout this spring.
But now he’s looking for a different outcome.
His goals for the 2014 season are simple: “To be a starter, for one,” he said. “And just keep working on my technique and get better and better.”
Going by the OTA and minicamp practices that were open to the media and, more importantly, by Head Coach Joe Philbin’s comments, it seems obvious that Thomas has made great strides since the end of what became a frustrating rookie season.
At the conclusion of the offseason program, Philbin was asked to name players who had shown the most improvement, and Thomas was among the five he listed.
“He’s a lot further ahead than he was a year ago,” Philbin said earlier. “If you look at Dallas Thomas, who was able to participate only on a limited basis last offseason, he’s been one of our hardest workers throughout the offseason program.”
And right there, you have two key points when it comes to Dallas Thomas.
Sure, it was disappointing to see the third-round pick play only four snaps on offense during the 2013 season, but let’s not forget that he had sit out most of the offseason conditioning program while recuperating from shoulder surgery.
Thomas was good to go for the start of training camp and got plenty of practice time as the first-team left guard.
Before long, Thomas was moving around on the offensive line, getting practice time at left tackle and also right tackle.
Ultimately, though, Thomas’ rookie season became one of watching and learning.
And the biggest lesson?
“You’ve got to know your material, you’ve got to know what you’re doing on the field because stuff happens so fast,” Thomas said. “You’ve got to be able to just react to it and not even think about what’s happening on the field.”
When the 2013 season ended, Thomas made sure he set himself up for success as much as possible.
That meant doing a lot of work, both on his body (with a new diet) and his mind (hitting the playbook).
It also meant he would stay in South Florida before the start of the offseason program.
The commitment appears to have paid off. At least, it did in the spring.
Thomas could see a big difference pretty quickly.
“For one I was dealing (last spring) with my shoulder injury I had,” he said. “I was coming off surgery with that and I was just trying to recover from that and play catch-up with that. But now I know everything. Got a new playbook, I got that nailed down pretty good, tight, so I know it’s just working with Branden (Albert) and stuff, working together.”
If he can nail down the starting job at left guard, Thomas is likely to find himself again playing alongside former University of Tennessee teammate Ja’Wuan James, the Dolphins’ first-round pick.
It’s almost like deja vu for Thomas.
“Man, it was crazy,” Thomas said, reminiscing about their college days. “When he came in as a freshman, I was already there for one year just like how it is now. He was just lost, he didn’t know what he was doing. We just hung out together and slowly just began to grow and grow together and just became best friends after that.”
“I called him up as soon as I saw (the Dolphins had drafted James), but I couldn’t get through because everybody was blowing his phone up, so I just sent him a text. I’m happy that he’s here becuase he’s one of my best friends. We’ve been together since college. Now to get to play together in the pros; that barely happens in the NFL.”
If Thomas’ rookie season turned out to be forgettable, his sophomore campaign certainly has the makings of a memorable one.
Not that he’s taking anything for granted.
“I just want to help the team,” he said. “You just keep on working and getting that position down. And if they want to move me again to another position, just learn it and keep working to help the team.
“They gave me a chance last year, but I messed up. And I just learned from my mistakes and I keep moving forward.”