Class in session as Thomas plots new course in '02

Former defensive end making transition to linebacker for Ravens

August 07, 2002|By Travis Haney | Travis Haney,SUN STAFF

Adalius Thomas may have received his degree from the University of Southern Mississippi in 2000, but this summer the Ravens' third-year player is enrolled in yet another class - Linebacker 101.

Thomas, who played linebacker all four years in college and twice was Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year, was converted into a defensive end after being selected by the Ravens in the sixth round of the 2000 draft. He recorded an NFL-high five sacks during the 2000 preseason.

After playing sparingly his first season, he was in every game last season on the Ravens' line, recording 37 tackles (29 solo). He started two games toward the end of the year when Rob Burnett was out with an injury. It was then that the coaching staff took greater notice of Thomas' explosive first step off the line.

With that in mind, and after the loss of starting linebacker Jamie Sharper to the expansion Houston Texans during the off-season, it seemed like the time was right to turn the 6-foot-2, 270-pound Thomas back into a linebacker.

"He's got the speed and the size," said Ravens linebackers coach Mike Smith, "and we felt like he's an ideal outside linebacker to play the left side."

A guy like Thomas -inherently a pass-rusher - will especially come in handy when the Ravens go into their 3-4 defense, a system that features three linemen and four linebackers. In that defense, most of the time the quartet of linebackers will drop back into coverage, at other times, though, one will be covertly converted into a pass rusher. His job is to bear down on the quarterback - and he gets a running start.

"The scheme we have allows us to adjust who's rushing and who the fourth rusher will be," Smith said. "This gives us a lot more flexibility. They don't know which guy is coming - and we've got guys that can rush the passer from a two-point stance."

Pressuring quarterbacks may be the smoothest part of Thomas' transition to the linebacker's role. The task likely to give him fits is when he has to cover tight ends moving up the field or running backs floating out into the flat. He says he has studied his playbook relentlessly, but a defined learning curve is inevitable.

"I've never been in a real game situation in the league at linebacker, so I'm pretty sure there's going to be things to work on," Thomas said. "I know my assignments, and I still make mistakes. It's not because I don't know what to do, it's because I'm not perfect. ... You're not going to turn into a DB overnight."

Thomas' crash course at linebacker has several professors, including Smith, defensive coordinator Mike Nolan and head coach Brian Billick. He said his greatest teachers at the position, however, are his peers - veteran linebackers like Ray Lewis, Edgerton Hartwell and Peter Boulware.

"I lean on them a lot," Thomas said. "Whenever I have a question or anything about what I'm doing, I can go to those guys instead of going to a coach because they're out there with me. That helps me, to go through the same reasoning they go through to solve a problem."

He added that thinking more like the other linebackers will only help produce a harmonic flow among the corps.

"We're trying to work on our chemistry," Thomas said. "We're trying to make it so that when they see something, I see the same thing and we know we're on the same page."

Hartwell said he doesn't think Thomas has needed much help from him or any of the other linebackers.

"He's physically capable of everything he's being asked," said Hartwell, who played all 18 games at linebacker last season. "I think if he needed a few little hints, we'd let him know. Definitely he can carry himself, though, and that's because he's a vet."

Thomas needs no refresher course on the need to execute, saying that is the same coming off the bench or starting, playing end or linebacker.

"Last year, whether I started or backed up people, my job was the same," he said. "If I get in there, I am supposed to make plays."

Next for Ravens

Preseason opponent:Detroit Lions

Site:Ravens Stadium

When:Friday, 8 p.m.

TV/Radio:Comcast SportsNet, Ch. 45/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line: Ravens by 3

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