Thomas is everywhere

Smart and athletic, Raven lines up at numerous defensive positions

November 25, 2005|By JAMISON HENSLEY | JAMISON HENSLEY,SUN REPORTER

At first glance, Adalius Thomas looks like a defensive end.

But he hits like a linebacker. He runs like a cornerback. And he thinks like a coach.

The Ravens' unquestioned MVP - Most Versatile Player - not only has the ability to play every defensive position but he also has already done so. On Sunday, Thomas went from defensive tackle to defensive end, from outside linebacker to inside linebacker and from cornerback to safety.

His unique physical gifts allow him to play everywhere. His knowledge of the game allows him to play everywhere remarkably well.

Consider this: Thomas only has a few seconds after each defensive call is made to recognize where to line up and remember what his responsibilities are.

"Every play is a challenge," Thomas said.

His most imposing challenge comes Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Although Thomas spends most of his time at his starting outside linebacker position, he is expected to play five to 10 snaps covering the Bengals' Chad Johnson, the AFC's leading receiver.

The Ravens want the 6-foot-2, 270-pound Thomas to be physical with Johnson and jam him at the line, which throws off any of Cincinnati's timing patterns. Thomas knows that he has safety help in case Johnson goes deep, but he has the quickness to keep up with Johnson on the short to intermediate routes.

It's safe to assume that Johnson, who keeps a much-publicized list of which defenders can and cannot cover him, hasn't written Thomas' name down.

In fact, when Thomas lined up against Johnson three weeks ago, the loquacious receiver asked, "What's your big [butt] doing out here?"

It's difficult for anyone to anticipate where Thomas will be lining up next.

He plays about 60 to 65 snaps on the NFL's second-ranked defense, where he could be blitzing as a safety or dropping back into coverage as a linebacker. Then, he goes an additional 15 to 20 snaps on special teams, where he has the speed to be a gunner (the player split wide on punt coverage) and the muscle to break up the blocking wedges on kickoff coverage.

"I don't know if there's another player like Adalius Thomas in the National Football League," coach Brian Billick said. "I don't know if there's another player that does all the things that Adalius Thomas does."

Thomas is fifth on the Ravens in tackles (57) and leads them in sacks (four). He has broken up five passes, intercepted one and forced a fumble.

"He is really an unsung hero," cornerback Deion Sanders said. "He does so much for this team. He's a freak of an athlete, first and foremost. He probably could return punts, but we're not going to risk that."

A sixth-round pick in 2000, Thomas became a full-time starter at defensive end in 2002. The next season, he had to step in at outside linebacker when Terrell Suggs had a slower-than-expected transition from college defensive end.

With all that shuffling around, Thomas began to learn the roles of every position. Some of his teammates soon began to call him "The Coordinator."

Because of Thomas' thorough understanding of the system, defensive coordinator Rex Ryan recently woke up one morning with the idea of playing Thomas at safety in some special packages. Ryan proposed the idea to his defensive coaching staff and no one objected.

"Everybody sees how rare it is to have a guy who is 275 pounds and can run a 4.5 [-second 40-yard dash]," Ryan said. "But the thing that is equally impressive is the fact that he has the kind of intelligence to where he can handle all those things. It's tough enough to learn one position. But he's learning them all."

Never one to shy away from double duty, Thomas has set up his own charity foundation (appropriately named "Slash") and has become a popular figure with the media. Articulate and insightful, Thomas hosts a weekly radio show in the area.

The most popular question posed by fans is: What position does Thomas play?

"I always say I'm just a football player," he said. "Put me on the field, tell me what you want me to do and I'll do it."

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.