Ravens' Thomas excels in versatile role

Veteran makes an impact at linebacker, on defensive line and on special teams

October 02, 2003|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The Ravens' bye week is a welcome rest for Adalius Thomas.

The first month of the season has featured him knocking down passes, quarterbacks and kick returners.

On one play, he's dropping back into coverage as an outside linebacker. The next, he's rushing the passer as a lineman. Then, he's off to play special teams, where he is just as much of a threat to block the punt as chase down the punt returner.

The fourth-year veteran has become the Ravens' MVP, as in most versatile player.

"It's fun and it's demanding," said Thomas, a 6-foot-2, 270-pound jack-of-all-trades. "But everybody has their role."

But not everybody has six roles.

On defense alone, he can be at four different spots in a quarter.

Thomas plays outside linebacker on the base defense and can line up anywhere on the line - from over center to guard to tackle - in the team's pass defense packages. His size, strength and speed allows him to be the defense's unique utility player.

"The defense is more based around him than him around the defense," defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said. "We're trying to use his talents. If we don't have a guy like him, we're not doing some of the things we're doing. He's a defensive lineman slash linebacker and vice versa. You can call him the `Defensive Slash.' "

He is the only Raven to have a tackle on defense and special teams, along with a sack and a pass break-up.

"You don't get bored," said Thomas, who has knocked down as many passes (two) as he has sacks recorded. "You don't know what you're going to do. You're rushing, dropping [into coverage] and going out on special teams. It's great being out there on the field and making plays happen."

Unlike many defensive starters in the league, Thomas doesn't play special teams like it's a demotion. In fact, he has made more tackles on special teams (nine) than on defense (four).

"I think special teams needs me, and I feel needed there," Thomas said. "I'm not going to shortchange the team. If I think we have a better chance of making a play with me out there, I'm going to be out there."

Outside of going offside Sunday - which led to Kansas City's game-winning kickoff return - Thomas has been the team's dominant special teams player.

He stormed up the middle to block a punt Sunday in his first action on punt return, but his true talents are evidenced on punt coverage.

One of the league's biggest gunners (the player split wide on punt coverage), Thomas has the size to bust through a double-team jam at the line and the speed to race 40 yards downfield to force the returner into a quick decision. It's a position that is usually held down by defensive backs.

"As a gunner, it shows his ability to change direction and still make a play on a small guy," special teams coordinator Gary Zauner said.

While the Ravens are enamored by his athleticism, they want him to have a more physical presence on defense.

The knock on Thomas is he makes most of his big plays on defense by chasing down players in space. The inability to consistently fight through blocks could cost Thomas, a free agent at the end of the season, a big-money contract.

The rotation with linebacker Cornell Brown on first and second down gives Thomas a breather and gives the Ravens a bigger run-stopper.

"For AD to really take that next step, there has to be a certain level of consistency on first and second down at the point of attack," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "By the same token, that doesn't diminish that he adds a unique presence in a lot of different packages."

The Ravens, though, have never questioned Thomas' knowledge to handle all of those roles.

"He wears a lot of hats," Nolan said. "He's got as many as you want to have. One of the impressive things is he's probably had a minimum amount of mental errors. He's a very intelligent football player."

NOTES: Pass rusher Terrell Suggs was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month after registering sacks in each of his first four games. ... Running back Jamal Lewis lost out on the NFL Offensive Player of the Month to Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who has completed 67 percent of his passes for 914 yards, with nine touchdowns and three interceptions. Lewis leads the league in rushing (611 yards) and became only the third player in history to rush for more than 600 yards in the first four games of the season.

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