Thomas Intent On Becoming A Better Back

Posted Aug 26, 2012

One year ago, Miami Dolphins running back Daniel Thomas was fighting a hamstring injury that delayed his rookie debut until the second week of the regular season. He’s in a totally different place physically and mentally right now.

The second-year bruiser from Kansas State displayed his strength and his speed in last night’s third preseason game against Atlanta, leading Miami with 29 yards on just six carries. Thomas broke tackles inside and found the edge quickly at the same time, the type of combination for a 6-foot-1, 233-pound running back that scares defenses.

“I would like to think of him as a hard, downhill runner, but he also has a lot of quickness,” said Dolphins running backs coach Jeff Nixon, who is in his second season with the team. “He has a great burst through the line of scrimmage for a guy his size, so we like to think of him as an in-between-the-tackles runner. But he can get out on the perimeter and he can also make people miss and make some big plays in open space.”

Thomas managed to lead all AFC rookie running backs in 2011 with 581 yards on 165 carries, and he also caught 12 passes for 72 yards and a touchdown. When he finally did get on the field against the Houston Texans in Week 2, Thomas led Miami with 107 rushing yards on 18 carries and caught a 10-yard pass. His rushing total was the second highest in franchise history by a running back making his debut.

The following week at the Cleveland Browns, Thomas led the Dolphins again with 95 yards on 23 carries and caught three passes for 27 yards, one of them a 10-yard touchdown from Chad Henne. His 202 combined rushing yards were the most by a Dolphins running back in his first two career games and second most by a rookie in a two-game span, but that promising start did not lead to a strong finish due to a reinjured hamstring and later in the year a minor knee injury.

“I didn’t have the year I expected I was going to have,” Thomas said. “I thought I was going to be a whole lot better, but unfortunately the injuries came about. You can use that as an excuse but I still played through. I was definitely disappointed so that’s why I worked hard this offseason and I feel like I’m going to have a better year this year. I’m hitting the hole harder and got my burst back and my pass protection is getting better.”

Thomas was at his best and most versatile during Miami’s longest scoring drive against the Falcons in the second quarter. He carried the ball four times for 24 yards, beginning the series with a 9-yard power run up the middle where he kept his balance for the last three yards.

On the first play of the second quarter on the same drive, Thomas took the ball from rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill on a draw and bulled his way nine more yards to the 10. He picked up the first down on the next play with a tough 2-yard run and then two plays later showed off his acrobatic skills when he tried to hurdle a defender and gained 4 yards to the 4, somersaulting in the air and landing on his head.

“Daniel is just continuing to improve every single day,” Nixon said. “He’s a big back who has a great burst and runs with some power. He’s really done a great job improving his pass protection and I’m looking for big things from Daniel this year. He’s really developing into an all-around player – a back that can run, catch the ball out of the backfield and I’m starting to really develop confidence in him protecting the quarterback with all of our protections.”

Nixon describes Thomas as “one of the hardest workers out here on the field and he’s just a pleasure to coach.” From afar, Thomas seems to be quiet and unassuming, but Nixon confirmed what tight end Charles Clay said about him being a prankster with a sarcastic wit.

But when it comes time to get serious and focus on the playbook and on the drills at practice or the live game action, Thomas has learned from veteran running back Reggie Bush how to be a professional. His physical play and his demeanor in the meetings are proof of that.

“Reggie’s been a great mentor for him, especially when it comes to running the ball,” said Nixon of the relationship between Bush and Thomas. “We’re getting him to be more patient and he’s paying attention to some of the little details of being a running back. So I think having Reggie as a mentor has been good for him and again I think he’ll just continue to improve.”

Staying healthy and hitting the books certainly has paid dividends for Thomas to this point and it’s allowed him to put the frustrations of his rookie campaign behind him.

In addition to Bush, Thomas’ other teammates are gaining confidence in his abilities and what he can mean to the offense, especially those offensive linemen blocking for him.

“He’s a powerful back,” Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Long said. “He’s big, he’s strong, he can run over guys and he’s got the speed to outrun them. He’s a good back and I think he’s going to do a lot of good things for us this year.”
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