Randy Lange of The Record and Jets Confidential talked with Thomas before the start of the full-squad minicamp about his rumored position change, the trade of John Abraham, and how his own career is going as he enters his contract season:
Q: We've been hearing that you're now not a defensive end but a linebacker. How's the position move been going?
Thomas: It's not really a position change yet. Right now we're basically practicing each scheme. Right now, moving to linebacker, I can't say that. Nothing's set in stone yet.
Q: But it sounds as if you're working more at linebacker than you had been even in the two seasons at the "W" position under your previous D-coordinator, Donnie Henderson.
Thomas: Coach Mangini hasn't really laid out the full package for us. I don't know what the plans are yet, and the plans could change during training camp. I really can't say what it's going to be. Right now we're doing a lot of hand and footwork stuff, trying to get our technique down, learning different formations. With new coaches coming in, the terminology changes and you've got to learn that. Right now a lot of what we're doing is mental.
Q: Do you get the sense that you will be a full-time LB, or might you still play some defensive end?
Thomas: There's a possibility of anything. I'm not sure what Coach Mangini and Coach Sutton will bring, a 4-3 or a 3-4. You've just got to be open-minded to the possibilities. We won't really know until training camp.
That's when we're going to put everything in.
Q: OK, let's just say there's a chance you may get to play the role that Willie McGinest played for New England, the big outside linebacker that Eric and Bill Belichick liked for that scheme. Would you welcome such a role?
Thomas: I would welcome anything. Coach Mangini has been good. He's coming from the Patriots, where they had a good system. I would welcome a change of any kind. I've watched film of Willie, I've studied a lot of players and everything. He's a fantastic player. But to say I'm trying to be like Willie McGinest ... those are big shoes to fill.
Q: McGinest is listed at 6-4 and 270. You've played end at 6-3 and 266. Where do you think your weight will be this season if you're going to be playing more linebacker?
Thomas: I want to be between 55 and 60. That's where I kind of feel comfortable. My weight in college was around 45 to 50.
Q: Have you done anything differently this off-season in your workouts to get ready for the new scheme, whatever it may entail?
Thomas: I've just been trying to familiarize myself with both the 3-4 and 4-3. I've looked at old tape of New England, old tape of our 4-3. Week to week it can change. With the [strength and conditioning] workouts, we've done some stuff just a little different than last year. The emphasis will change -- we'll work on our feet one day and our hands another day.
Q: There will be a big change for you and your defensive teammates in that John Abraham has been traded to Atlanta. How will that feel, not having John on your side now?
Thomas: A lot of people ask me about that. John was a good guy and he helped me out a lot. Coming in my rookie season, going from being a starter [at Alabama-Birmingham] to not being a starter, that was new for me. I was used to be out on the field, playing everything. John was really there for me, telling me, 'Don't worry about it, keep your head up, just keep getting better and better.' He and Shaun Ellis helped me out a lot with technique stuff and not getting discouraged.
Q: It would have been easy to get discouraged as a rookie with all the things happening to you on and off the field.
Thomas: All that stuff my rookie year, I just try to leave it in the past. It was a big learning experience for me.
Q: Yet you rebounded from that season to get better year by year. How do you look at the way your career has unfolded?
Thomas: Being behind two good people, two decent ends, it's kind of hard to get playing time, which I had to understand. My first couple of years I struggled. As I look back on myself, watch film of myself, I end up saying I was fooling myself. My technique was bad, I wasn't looking at the overall picture of what the offense was doing, to be honest. I wasn't ready to start. The coaches then knew that, and that's why they didn't put me in position, I guess, to embarrass myself.
Q: But you've been a solid player for a few years and now you may be getting a shot in a new, prominent role. That's got to feel rewarding.
Thomas: It really is a good opportunity for me. I can go out there and showcase what I've been wanting to do, what I can do. John is gone and getting an opportunity is a blessing. And it's coming at a real good time in my life. As long as I'm out there on that field making plays.
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