Two years have passed since the Miami Dolphins saw something special enough in running back
It was a bold investment being made by General Manager Jeff Ireland – one that cost him a third-round pick, a fifth-round pick and a seventh-round pick – but one he made with conviction. Listed at 6-foot-1 and 233 pounds, Thomas brought the combination of size and speed the Dolphins were looking to have in the backfield and the versatility as a receiver and blocker necessary in today’s NFL.
Unfortunately, injuries sustained in both his rookie season and last year resulted in less production than both Thomas and his coaches desired out of a second-round pick. He showed flashes of his potential in leading all AFC rookie running backs with 581 rushing yards in 2011 and coming back with four rushing touchdowns in 2012. But the development of last year’s fourth-round selection, Lamar Miller, and the addition of this year’s fifth-rounder out of Florida,
“There’s definitely going to be competition and an open competition, so that’s why I’m approaching this offseason as if I’m coming in as the starter,” said Thomas, who finished with 325 rushing yards last season and caught 15 passes for 156 yards. “I wanted to go and put in that work that I never put in before, which is why I switched up my whole routine this year and definitely added some muscle and got a lot stronger.”
As a two-year starter at Kansas State, Thomas did a little bit of everything for the Wildcats, including some quarterback, receiving and kick returning. He was a JUCO All-American at quarterback in 2007 for Northwest Mississippi Community College in 2007, so his athleticism certainly can be seen as a positive.
Instead of sticking with his normal training regimen in South Florida after the season ended, Thomas went out to Arizona to train and altered his workout so that he could improve his durability. He didn’t limit his focus to the weight room and the field, devoting lots of time to watching film of all 91 of his runs and identifying bad tendencies that he needed to get rid of. He even watched highlights of Adrian Peterson and Frank Gore to get some tips.
This attention to detail from both the mental side as well as the physical side is something Thomas knows he needs to show Head Coach Joe Philbin, offensive coordinator Mike Sherman and his running backs coach, Jeff Nixon.
“Running backs need to see the fronts, the defensive calls that they are going to be running the ball against, as well as their protection responsibilities,” Philbin said. “So (Thomas’) ability to stay healthy I think will help him. He certainly has got a lot of talent and skill. We need to enable him to stay healthy, get out there on the practice field every single day and then consistency on the field. I think that will help the on-the-field performance.”
On the field is where everything will play out now for Thomas and he will be in full control of what kind of playing time will be coming his way. Philbin likes the different running styles of all of his backs because it keeps the defense off balance.
If there is one thing Thomas wants to clear up for his coaches, his teammates and the fans it has to do with the type of runner he can be. Starting with that first training camp, he saw himself being labeled as strictly an inside runner and as a compliment to the outside threat that was Reggie Bush and then Lamar Miller. He sees himself as more than just one-dimensional.
“I’m big but I’m not just that in-between-the-tackles guy,” said Thomas, who was clocked in the 4.6-second range in the 40-yard dash coming out of college. “For me I’ve just got to stay consistent with what I’m doing and show everybody that I can do everything, which I know I’m more than capable of doing. You don’t just want to be that guy on the field on first and second down who can’t protect the quarterback, so that’s also one of the areas I’m working very hard at improving.”
It sounds like Thomas is even more intent on giving Ireland a good return on his investment.