Another much-anticipated road to recovery has taken a positive step as the Indianapolis Colts activated offensive guard Donald Thomas off the physically unable to perform list Friday.
The move comes three days after outside linebacker Robert Mathis was activated off PUP and joined Colts practice for the first time in about a year. Like Mathis, Thomas will be brought back slowly after spending much of August doing individual work to strengthen a right quadriceps he's torn twice in two years.
When the Colts signed Thomas to a four-year, $14-million contract in 2013, they thought he would help solidify the offensive line at left guard. Instead, he's played just two games. Both seasons ended early on injured reserve -- last year's setback occurred during practice at training camp.
The Colts have sixth-year pro Lance Louis slotted at left guard for now. Should Thomas stay on the active roster after final cuts on Sept. 5, he'll be paid $3.5 million, which means the team expects him to eventually play.
After a 2014 season which saw the Colts juggle 11 different offensive line starting combinations, the team has already had to adjust in preseason. Right tackle Gosder Cherilus was waived just before training camp, which meant shifting second-year pro Jack Mewhort from left guard, where he started 13 of 14 games as a rookie.
Thomas, 29, has played in 45 games including 23 starts in his seven NFL seasons. He had appeared in all 16 games for just the second time in his career when with New England in 2012. He started in seven of those games.
Colts general manager Ryan Grigson has stuck by Thomas when asked about the oft-injured player. The team boss has spoken of how hard Thomas has hit the weights to improve his strength and that the Colts were confident the guard could eventually be the player they envisioned when he was signed.
Thomas has said being sidelined a second time was one of the most difficult times in his life.
"It was rough. It was rough," Thomas said during offseason training activities in March. "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 ton 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."
It's doubtful Thomas will be ready for the regular season opener Sept. 13 at the Buffalo Bills. Mathis, 34, is coming off an Achilles tendon tear and while he has said he expects to be ready for the opening game, the team has suggested his timetable to return likely will be later. Colts owner Jim Irsay suggested the expectation for Mathis would be late September or early October.
That Thomas has been activated off PUP suggests he could be ready some time in September. But just like with Mathis, the Colts won't rush Thomas back. Colts head coach Chuck Pagano has said team doctors would have the final say on both players' readiness.
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