If you’re doubting Donald Thomas, you’re not alone.
After tearing his right quadriceps twice in the past two seasons, the Indianapolis Colts offensive guard was first consumed by asking himself, “Why?” He considers his time away from his team as “probably one of the lowest points in my life actually.”
The harsh reality of the NFL is that bodies break. They’re pushed to the maximum efficiency and then beyond. Thomas, 29, realizes this. He’s entering his eighth NFL season, which means he’s more than doubled the player career average.
He was thought to be an important O-line addition at left guard when the former New England Patriots lineman signed a four-year, $14-million contract in free agency two years ago. Then his body betrayed him.
The initial tear came just two games after joining the Colts in 2013. Then it happened again during training camp last summer. He knew it immediately, angrily slamming his helmet on the Anderson University practice field and then throwing the headgear aside.
After too much time for soul searching, Thomas has stopped questioning himself about the past and accepted the challenge of doing whatever he can to prevent history from repeating itself.
“It was rough. It was rough,” he said recently during offseason training activities. “It was tough to be on the outside looking in, so to speak. Those guys dealt with a lot, and they persevered through it. It was unfortunate that we had a lot of guys banged up. It’s just part of the game, but you just hope everyone can stay healthy. It’s the hardest thing in football, but that’s what you try to do.”
The Colts could have cut Thomas and saved $3.25 million. They stuck by him. But if he can’t return and perform as expected, the team can save $3.5 million by cutting him before June 1, 2016.
In his absence, other options have been added. Guards Todd Herremans and Ben Heenan were signed in free agency. Guard/tackle Joe Reitz was also re-signed. Second-year pro Jack Mewhort, a second-round draft choice, stepped in at left guard last season and is considered part of the team’s long-term plan.
“It’s always good to have competition,” Thomas said. “It makes you better. I just want to get back in and compete to play. That’s going to be my main focus, just getting back, getting in the mix and hopefully being one of those guys that can compete.”
Thomas admits that quadriceps is on his mind every day, each time he works out. It’s difficult to resist the temptation to push his rehabilitation. He’s anxious, but before trusting he’s healed, he must have faith in the process.
“I’ve got to think about myself and make sure that I’m 100 percent before I can worry about getting into a mix,” he said. “I can’t get into the mix with those guys if I’m not 100 percent. My main thing is just getting healthy, and then once I’m healthy, I can get back in there.
“Each day I get better, I feel better. I just want to get back 100 percent and just be able to compete again. Right now, honestly, my main thing is right now (is) I really don’t think about the future. I just take it day-by-day, if I can just control everything that I can control each day with my rehab, doing whatever they ask me to do and making sure I make the gains that I’m supposed to make, the future will take care of itself.”
Thomas didn’t participate in the team’s OTA eight-week routine or mandatory mini-camp. Head coach Chuck Pagano was asked about the player’s ongoing recovery.
“Pretty significant injury in back-to-back seasons and tough for anybody to come back from,” Pagano said. “He’s working. His mindset is that he wants to play, he wants to get back, he wants to be 100 percent. Time will tell. He’s doing everything that he’s supposed to be doing to try and get himself healthy.”
Thomas would like to say he’ll be back by Aug. 1 for training camp. He wants to be out there, on the same field where his 2014 season ended. But the timetable is uncertain. And he realizes he can’t worry about that now.
“Right now, I know I’m here today,” Thomas said. “I got my work in today. It feels good. I know it’s not ready yet. That’s all I can tell you.”
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.