Thomas versatile tackling his job

Dependable linebacker knows role with Ravens is to fill in where needed

Ravens Training Camp

August 10, 2004|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

At a championship fight three months ago, the Ravens' Adalius Thomas ran into Michael Vick, and unlike their previous meeting, it resulted in a quizzical look rather than a knockout.

"Don't you know this man?" someone asked the Atlanta Falcons quarterback. "This is the guy that ended your season."

From those in NFL circles to his friends, that's how the unassuming Thomas is identified: the linebacker who broke Vick's leg nearly a year ago.

It doesn't matter that Thomas is one of the most versatile players in the league. People want to talk about that one tackle.

It doesn't matter that he earned his first Pro Bowl trip with an uncanny talent on special teams. His friends call him "The Vick-timizer."

"Everybody has a claim to fame," Thomas said. "You would think that was the play that won the Super Bowl. But that's done. That's over with."

Unfortunately for Thomas, it's far from over. Although Vick is expected to play just the first series, Thursday's preseason opener between the Ravens and the Falcons will bring that moment back into the national spotlight.

The clip of Thomas chasing Vick down and dragging him to the ground likely will be replayed in freeze-frame clarity on ESPN's telecast.

For Thomas, the memory is more of a blur.

"It happened so fast," Thomas said. "I thought he was sliding, but he went headfirst. I came over the top and tapped him down. I jumped up and he stayed on the ground."

As much as Thomas figured into the ending of Atlanta's season, he has made a bigger impact in preserving the Ravens' playoff hopes.

When Terrell Suggs was slow to make the transition from college defensive end to outside linebacker last season, Thomas stepped in seamlessly as the starter and finished with 34 tackles, four sacks and eight passes batted down.

And now, with Peter Boulware still recovering from offseason knee surgery, Thomas is expected to fill in as a starter again for a large part of the season.

"You have your stars and you have your role players," Thomas said. "I think I'm a star role player."

His dependability is surpassed only by his versatility.

At some point this season, Thomas will be called upon to play tackle, end, inside linebacker and outside linebacker. If a third receiver splits out wide while the Ravens are in their base defense, Thomas has to shift and cover like a cornerback.

Essentially, he could play every position on defense except safety.

"There's a lot of guys athletically that can do what A.D. does," defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said. "The difference is his intelligence. He can pick it all up. We call him our `Defensive Slash.'

"If A.D. goes down, there will be probably two or three guys that will assume his different roles. He's unique in that way."

His variety of jobs on defense only reveals half of Thomas' role. He takes as much pride in being the team's ace on special teams, where he is just as much of a threat to block the punt as run down the punt returner.

One of the league's biggest gunners (the player split wide on punt coverage) at 6 feet 2, 270 pounds, 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.

"You don't get bored," Thomas said. "A lot of times it gets cloudy. If you could work on one thing and be great, that's fine. With me, I have to be good at covering the pass, I have to be good at rushing the passer, I have to be good at covering punts and kicks. And I try to be the best at all of it."

Maybe one day, Thomas will be recognized beyond his own team for his double duty.

Maybe he'll even be recognized by Vick.

"It was an awkward situation," Thomas said of his last meeting with Vick. "He didn't really say anything. You never want to break anybody's leg. But at the same time, it's not like I took a cheap shot.

"Respect is all I want. Not from the fans but just from my peers. As long as my peers say, `This guy plays this game the way it's supposed to play.' Then, I'm fine with that."

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