"A-Train" Saga Continues

A day-to-day injury has turned into nearly two weeks of Anthony Thomas watching the action from the sideline. Could the Bears be sitting their backup running back to ensure his trade value?

Lovie Smith has been vague when it comes to Thomas' side injury. While there may be nothing to Thomas sitting with a minor injury since July 31, it could also have something to do with the situation in Miami.

The Dolphins lost RB Ricky Williams when he retired a week before the start of training camp. Dave Wannstedt and Co. took another hit over the weekend when WR David Boston tore up his knee in a non-contact drill.

After the shock of Williams' retirement wore off the Dolphins contacted the Bears about Thomas' availability. GM Jerry Angelo was willing to listen then and there is no reason to think anything has changed.

Immediately after Williams' announcement, Dolphins GM Rick Spielman announced he'd take things slowly and look in preseason at possibilities on his own roster.

"It could happen," Angelo said at the start of training camp. "We see it happen during camp given the injury situation. So we'll just wait and see. You're letting other people evaluate you. You're not going to go to them and say: `I've got a big fix for you and we could (get) help, as well.' We're just going to let it run its course.

"We're fine and we're not in the mindset that we need anybody. Anybody that we need we have right now."

In the meantime, why subject Thomas to further injury by putting him on the practice field or a preseason game when he's already proven what he can do.

By the end of training camp, there could even be other suitors.

Most trades in the NFL preseason occur the final few weeks prior to the regular season after GMs know what they have in hand and what they need. They're made in exchange for draft picks rather than players. Witness last year's trade by the Bears of Ted Washington to the New England Patriots.

Thomas Jones is undoubtedly the starting running back and asking a two-time thousand yard rusher to be a backup could lead to problems in the lockerroom as the season progresses.

Lining up the two in the same backfield isn't a realistic option. The suggestion is that Thomas' power would complement Jones' speed, but speed backs need more than a power complement -- they need a power blocker, a fullback. And power backs need more than a speed complement -- they need a power blocker, a fullback.

The days of the split dual threat backfields are long gone. Mike Ditka tried it with the Bears in 1987 with Neal Anderson and Walter Payton and has always maintained that it was a total disaster.

There can be little doubt it's an offense built for a player like Jones, who has great downfield speed and has caught 42 more passes (97 total) in one more season than Thomas has.

Trading Thomas would leave the Bears without a power back to run for tough yards when they tried killing the clock at game's end. But that may not be important in this offense.

This offense doesn't rely much on running inside between the guards as much as it does off the tackles on stretch plays, or with tackles pulling and moving around on the perimeter in zone blocking schemes. So a speed back can serve as the back who kills the clock at game's end.

Kansas City's Priest Holmes has been the all-around threat that Jones is sometimes compared to by Angelo and coaches.

Holmes doesn't split time. Neither should Jones, if he proves he can handle the job after averaging only nine carries a game his first four years in the league. Durability and possibly a knack for holding onto the ball better would seem to be the chief trait the Bears' coaches need to see from Jones in training camp before deciding they can play without Thomas.

Keeping Thomas also would set Jones right back to where he was last season in Tampa.

"We had three or four running backs and everyone wanted the ball," Jones said, recalling how he had to split carries with Mike Alstott, Aaron Stecker and Michael Pittman. "We had receivers who wanted the ball. So there just wasn't enough balls to go around.

"I finally got my opportunity toward the end of the year, the last three or four games. And I just tied to show what I could do. I'm thankful that I had an opportunity to play at tailback last year. I learned a lot."

Jones feels his years of apprenticeships are over. The Bears gave him almost $10 million over four years, with a guaranteed $3.5 million bonus because they believe he is the goods.

There is only room for one back of that type under most salary caps. So anticipate some type of deal for Thomas at some point in the days leading up to the end of training camp.

Or anticipate more than one unhappy back on the Bears' roster at some point this season.


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