April 22, 2007

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Positioned to succeed: New Patriot Thomas values his versatility, determination (Christopher L. Gasper, April 19, 2007, Boston Globe)

Three rounds went by without a call, two more the following day, when about half of the friends and family returned. Thomas was finally taken by the Baltimore Ravens in the sixth round with the 186th overall pick, one selection before the Patriots picked safety Antwan Harris out of Virginia and 13 before New England tabbed Tom Brady. Thomas was out playing with his two pit bulls when he got the call, having long since stopped waiting for it.

"I was thinking this draft thing is overrated. It was just a big disappointment," said Thomas, during a recent interview in Foxborough. "It was kind of like tears of frustration and tears of joy; it's still a blessing that you get a chance to play, but it was a bittersweet thing."

Now, Thomas, New England's prize free agent acquisition, is on the same team as Brady, signed to a five-year, $35.04 million deal last month to upgrade a linebacking corps that was exposed in the AFC Championship game loss to the Colts. For the first time in his career, Thomas is getting what he deserves. As his father, Reverend Adonis Thomas, pastor of the Flint Hill Baptist Church in nearby Alexander City, said, his son has turned a stumbling block into a steppingstone.

The 29-year-old Thomas comes to Foxborough with a reputation for versatility -- he played eight positions in his seven seasons in Baltimore -- durability -- he's missed just three regular-season games since 2001 -- and big-play ability -- he has five career defensive touchdowns, four of which have come in the last two seasons.

Like Brady, the 6-foot-2-inch, 270-pound Thomas has blossomed, but he still carries a chip on his shoulder.

"I think you have to," said Thomas, who earned a Pro Bowl selection, his first as a defensive player, last season with a career-high 11 sacks. "You carry it not from a standpoint that you're bitter, but you carry it from a standpoint that you know that everything that everybody says about you isn't true. That's even from the standpoint of when I came here and people said, 'Baltimore is not losing much.' That's fine. That's your opinion."

With the big contract, which included $20 million in bonuses ($12 million signing bonus and $8 million option bonus, payable starting in 2008), comes the responsibility of proving he's worth it. Thomas has always had to prove his worth on the field. He was lightly recruited coming out of high school, as only Southern Mississippi and Mississippi State offered scholarships. He was overlooked in the early rounds of the draft, despite being a two-time Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year and setting a school record for sacks with 34 1/2 at Southern Miss., and he was, perhaps, undervalued on a Ravens defense laden with stars such as vociferous linebacker Ray Lewis, rapacious safety Ed Reed, and sackmaster Terrell Suggs.

Deion Sanders, who played two seasons in Baltimore with Thomas and is now an analyst for the NFL Network, said Thomas never got his just due.

"You know how someone is just not that high draft choice, not that guy you thought was going to be this or that?" said Sanders. "He was just that guy. He wasn't that high draft choice. Lewis was, Reed was, Suggs was. He wasn't."

Sanders said teammates knew Thomas's value and so did defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, who nicknamed Thomas, "The Coordinator."

"Ray Lewis was the leader by media and on game day, but AD was a leader. He was the leader. He knew all his assignments. He knew everyone else's assignments and then he played special teams. He touched every aspect of the game. You would see him just busting his butt and they really didn't want to give him his credit."

MORE:
OSU’s Gonzalez might be quite a catch (John Tomase, 4/23/07, Boston Herald)

This wide receiver class is considered particularly deep, with Pro Football Weekly giving it an A, thanks to the presence of a number of underclassmen.

Whether the Patriots dive in after a busy offseason remains to be seen, but it’s worth noting they’ve selected a wide receiver in four of the last five drafts. Considering the depth issues that plagued them last year, there’s always a chance they’ll add a prospect to a group that includes new faces Wes Welker, Donte’ Stallworth and Kelley Washington. [...]

If the Patriots go the receiver route in an early round, one name to watch is Anthony Gonzalez. Ginn’s teammate at Ohio State, Gonzalez is speedy (4.4 in the 40), strong (6-0, 195) and smart (philosophy major).

He’s considered a potential standout in the slot, which the Patriots currently have manned by Welker and veteran Troy Brown [stats], should he be healthy enough to play.

“What I hope to bring is consistency and reliability and accountability,” Gonzalez said. “That’s on the field, off the field, wherever. I want to be the type of person that coaches and fans and the media know, when he comes in a situation, he’s going to be a consistent person.”


Pats may add beef up front: Nebraska star fits team style (John Tomase, 4/22/07, Boston Herald)
Defensive line is one of the last positions the Patriots [team stats] need to address in the upcoming draft, but their reliance on a rotation in the 3-4 alignment means a high pick here can’t be ruled out.

A number of underclassmen have turned this position from a so-so group into a strong one. Considering the importance the Pats place on depth at the position, it wouldn’t be a complete surprise if they use one of their two first-round picks on a player like Nebraska’s Adam Carriker. [...]

If there’s a player who appeals to the Patriots who could be there at either 24 or 28, it’s Carriker. The Big 12 defensive lineman of the year recorded seven sacks and 16 tackles for losses last year, but in the pros he projects as a versatile run stuffer in either the 3-4 or 4-3.
Scouts rave about his work ethic, character and love of the game. He interviewed very well at the combine and fits the Patriots mode of being a team-first performer. At 6-6, 296, he’s also big and strong enough to hold his ground against the run.


A passing thought: Pats may opt for QB late (Karen Guregian, 4/21/07, Boston Herald)
The Pats had University of Washington’s Isaiah Stanback in for a visit. The 6-foot-2, 216-pounder is cut out of the Michael Vick mold. He’s a pure athlete who clocked a 4.4 in the 40, can play receiver and return punts and kicks. He lettered on Washington’s track team.

Although he has a strong arm, Stanback likely will be converted into a wide receiver, a move he doesn’t necessarily want to make.

“For me, personally, I love playing quarterback,” he said at the NFL’s scouting combine in February. “I’m passionate about the position. I don’t see any reason why I can’t play the position. I’ve been through a lot of changes in the past few years and haven’t been comfortable to get established at that, but the past two years, where I’ve had a consistent staff, I have made great jumps. I’m just looking for an opportunity to do that.”

Iowa’s Drew Tate is another possibility.

His lack of size - 5-11, 191 - might be a drawback, but he reads defenses well, leads receivers well, has a good pocket presence and has good touch on short-to-intermediate length passes.

Pittsburgh’s Tyler Palko, meanwhile, had a taste of pro sets and schemes with Dave Wannstedt as his coach and Matt Cavanaugh as his offensive coordinator. The two previously coached in the NFL.

“(Wannstedt) runs the program like it’s a professional team,” Palko said at the combine. “Having him and Matt (Cavanaugh) helped me tremendously, just the approach of playing football as a professional. So it definitely helped.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 22, 2007 11:50 PM
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