"He's big; he's a big man," coach Norv Turner said. "And he is smart and he wants to be good."
It was good fortune, according to the Chargers, that North Carolina's Thomas was available in the fifth round. The Chargers are eager to plug the gap left behind when they declined to return three-time Pro Bowl tackle Jamal Williams.
While there are a collection of other players in front of Thomas, that doesn't mean he can't leapfrog them with a solid set of spring and summer workouts.
"I believe he wants to be pushed so I think he is going to be exciting to watch. ... It's going to be exciting to see him learn how to play at this level."
The Chargers don't need Thomas to gain much girth. What they do need him to do is be nasty, and with Thomas being a cool customer, is that possible?
"Get me mad," he said, "and see what happens."
The Chargers are hopeful there is a nasty streak inside this mountain of a man. There's no doubt he's got the muscles to deliver some pop to the run defense.
Thomas refers to himself as "country strong."
"I'm cornbread fed," he said. "I grew up in the country and grew a base of strength just by living out there. When I started using weights on top of that, I got a whole lot stronger. You build up by moving tractors, lifting cars and pushing houses. Then you start with the real workout routine."
Maybe the Chargers are confident Thomas will be the real deal. Why else would they assign him the No. 76, a jersey Williams wore with such distinction for so long.
"It's an honor to wear this number, but there's no pressure," Thomas said. "My job is to continue what he started, and that's being a smart guy and a dominant nose tackle.
"I've heard they have a bunch of good linemen around here. My hope is that I can add something productive to the group."
The Chargers are expecting Thomas to be more than in the mix. But among Thomas' red flags coming out of college was that he apparently took plays off and didn't have much closing speed.
NT Cam Thomas
And taking plays off? Thomas will seldom -- if ever -- see the field unless it is a clear running down. So he should be well-rested for those occasions he is called upon.
"I'm ready to play and I love this system," he said. "That should answer it right there. I can't wait to get in the mix and show what I can do."
If nothing else, Thomas might play with a chip on his shoulder after being passed over by so many teams.
"That's life," he said. "If you have high expectations, sometimes they get shot down. Honestly, when I got taken doesn't matter to me. As long as I got picked, I'm good. I'm happy. Let's go play."
The Chargers are banking on Thomas being as good on the field as he is when talking to reporters. Thomas said not even the NFL combine got under his skin. "Everybody said there was going to be a lot of talking and a lot of stress," he said. "That was fine with me because I don't have any stress and I love to talk. I had a good ol' time."
Now comes the time to do more than talk.
--Coach Norv Turner said he was impressed with rookie safety Darrell Stuckey.
"He is a sure tackler and covers a lot of ground, so if we can get him to know what he needs to do now, when we get into training camp he will be able to use his skills," Turner said.
--OLB Shawne Merriman, a restricted free agent, swapped super agents, firing Tom Condon in favor of David Dunn. It's a big move for Merriman who has yet to sign his one-year contract tender. Condon and Chargers GM A. J. Smith have long been combatants.
--The Chargers have never held a rookie orientation under Turner, so why this year? "The circumstances are a little different, in two or three ways," he said. "We do have a number of guys recovering from offseason surgeries who won't be ready until late May or early June, so pushing our minicamp back gives us a chance to be healthy. You're allowed a rookie orientation, so once we pushed our minicamp back, it made sense to take advantage of the rule and get the young guys a head start."
--Count RB Curtis Brinkley as among the rookies happiest to be at the camp -- in fact, he is happy to be anywhere. The undrafted player was set for last summer's training camp when he was shot three times in a case of mistaken identity. One of the bullets remains near his heart, too close to try and remove.
"I've been working towards this day for a long time," Brinkley said. "I have an opportunity to live out my dream of playing professional football and I'm trying to take advantage of it. One thing I know now is that nothing is promised and nothing should be assumed. Your chance could be here one minute and gone the next. ... I'm ready. I'm determined. I want to make this team. Right now, I feel like nothing can stop me."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're trying to give them a sense of urgency and understanding that this playbook they have will be different from the one they are coming from." -- Coach Norv Turner on the biggest thought to get across to the newest Chargers at the rookie orientation.