John - Last year was obviously a disappointment with not making the play offs and given all the injuries over the course of the season can we look forward to a better year this year?
Thomas - Definitely!
John - What are you doing this off season to relax and recover from last season and get yourself ready for 2007?
Thomas - "Well for me it's been a lot different than a lot of the other teammates because I had surgery in January, so I've been rehabbing with that."
John - Are you doing all your rehab here in Charlotte with the Panther's trainers?
Thomas - Yeah, they've done a great job of trying to get me ready by the beginning of mini-camp.
John - I don' think many people were aware that you injured your shoulder in the Atlanta game, (Davis suffered a sublexation of the shoulder that also tore his labrum) for most of us it was a surprise to see that surface on the Panther's official site.
Thomas - "That's because I wasn't about to come out of the game, I just went back in and played."
John - We sure admire the toughness and tenacity. Well Atlanta is where you really won the fans' hearts as a spy or joker role against the Falcons, namely Michael Vick. You were able to contain him and force him to be a one dimensional QB and that really turned the tide. Can we look forward to more of that in the future?
Thomas - "Definitely, definitely."
John - You played safety in college, then moved to LB here, then back to safety and now back to linebacker, which position do you think is your natural position?
Thomas - "Um, in this league I would definitely say linebacker. After playing a year at each position I feel that I'm better suited to play the linebacker position."
John - Well, being the big hitter that you are and with your speed it seems that you could play either, good to know you're settling into your role at LB.
Other than the shoulder rehab, what are your goals in the off season and for the upcoming season?
Thomas - I just want to be one of the best linebackers in the NFC, not just our team. There's a lot of competition out there and it's going to be hard and that's a tough goal, but that's where I am.
John - What sets you apart from the other linebackers in the league?
Thomas - I think I have a good mixture of skills, good tackling, ability to get out of coverage and cover the TE's now, better than a lot of the other linebackers you know, they play with stiff hips and don't have as much speed. I feel like I have a couple things that set me apart. Plus I've bulked up a little bit.
John - A lot of people were disappointed to see Will Witherspoon depart for St. Louis, but also believed that you would be able to step into that role and play as well or better than Spoon did given some time to adjust and catch up experience wise.
Thomas - And what a lot of people don't realize is that this was my first year ever playing linebacker, so….
John - Well, we're anxious to see you come into your own. We miss having that fast, hard hitting linebacker that, to me at least, epitomizes what the NFL is all about.
Thomas - Listen, I appreciate that a lot. I really feel like last year helped me out a lot. Last year, when it came time to play I really had no game time experience at linebacker what so ever. I feel like it helped me a lot. I know the D a lot better, not having to think, just reacting to what I see and I'm feeling a lot more comfortable. So it's definitely going to be a lot better year for me.
John - Since your rookie season, coming in here as a safety and then converting to linebacker, what do you think you've improved on the most given that transition.
Thomas - By far it's just my overall understanding of the defense has gotten so much better. Understanding when I'm supposed to be doing what and how. The defense in the NFL now is unbelievably different than it was my rookie year because of experience.
John - You have a lot of veterans around you, how do they help you?
Thomas - Those guys definitely do a lot to help me. Draft, Minter, they're always in my ear talking to me, quizzing me and making sure I'm up on my game. I definitely feel like they've helped me out a lot with my overall game.
John - Let's take a brief detour. You're from Georgia and now live in Charlotte, what's the main difference between your home town and here?
Thomas - Not a whole lot, the weather's pretty much the same, biggest difference is that your family isn't there. It's still easy to reach out to them, but they're not actually here. Charlotte feels a lot like a smaller version of Atlanta, but it's growing pretty fast.
John - Back on task, do you see any big changes with the defense year given some of the off season moves, like the release of Draft and Wallace, Rucker's ACL injury, the hiring of Tim Lewis from the Giants as the secondary coach?
Thomas - I feel like last season we didn't finish how we wanted to, it's motivated a lot of guys to work harder this offseason. You'll see guys come out with that fire this year and really getting after guys on the field.
John - After being the pre-season favorite by many to win the Super Bowl the Panther stumbled, it seems that you guys are a "blue collar" type team and prefer to take a low key approach and like the underdog role. You agree?
Thomas - I've bought into it, a lot of the veterans do fit that mold and we as younger players take after their lead. As a rookie or a second year player you really want to follow the veterans, they've been to the Super Bowl, they know how to get it done so that's what you look at coming in as a young player.
John - Now, being a third year player, coming off of a good year as a starter how do you think you're role has, or will change as a new corps of young talent look to you for answers and to be a leader?
Thomas - I definitely think we'll bring some young linebackers in, I feel like I know a lot more now than I did and I'll give back to those who are younger. I'll do whatever I can to help them come along and contribute.
John - Let's talk again about losing fellow players and the business of the NFL. How did you feel about the loss of Chris Draft who not only lead the team in tackles, but can play all three linebacker positions and stated publicly that he really wanted to stay with the Panther's organization? How did it make you feel to hear that he was leaving for St Louis?
Thomas - Ah man, it was rough losing Draft; he's a guy who's helped me out so much. He was a great locker room leader, always working on the field on game day and in practice. He was always out there looking to help. I'm really going to miss having him around. I talked to him and all he really wanted was a little more than the league minimum and while I hated to see him leave I definitely can't blame him for moving on.
John - On the other side of the coin, let's talk about the return of Dan Morgan. Let's deal in theory for a minute and assume that Dan comes back this season and stay healthy for all 16, hopefully 19 games, what does having a guy like that on the field with you mean?
Thomas - Hey, he's a Pro-bowler and that speaks for itself. He's achieved the highest level individually and he's a great leader, so we certainly hope he stays healthy because he can't help us much from the sideline. We want to make sure he's out there with us this year.
John - How does losing a guy like Dan and breaking the continuity of the first team defense, as a unit, affect the team as a whole? You essentially lose the QB or centerpiece of the D, what changes does that bring about especially so early in the season?
Thomas - It really wasn't that big of a deal since Chris Draft came in and played well. Adam Seward and I were at the same place as far as experience goes and having a veteran like Chris come in really helped. Now we feel comfortable with Adam and we know that if Dan goes down, Adam's the man.
John - Do you think the Panthers will draft a MLB this year?
Thomas - We really don't have a clue what they're going to do.
John - Yeah, neither does anyone else; they're a pretty tightlipped organization.
John - The NFL owners meeting took place a couple days ago and one of the issues discussed and eventually denied was that of defensive players having wireless headsets in their helmets, much like the QB's do on offense. The idea was that the defenses could take calls from the sideline more easily and try to keep pace with the offense. Do you think they should have allowed it?
Thomas - It has its pros and cons, they were going to set it up where only one guy could use it, so if that one guy went down you had to readjust to not having it again. A lot of offenses are stealing the defenses signals so guys are wearing cards so that we're all on the same page; so again, it has its pros and cons.
John - Any pre game rituals or superstitions?
Thomas - Nah, not really.
John - A lot of players in the league have different charities that they support and/or create. Do you have any local efforts that you contribute to?
Thomas - No, not locally. I have some things I do at home to help keep kids from having to resort to the streets and focus on positive things down there. There's not much going on down there for the kids, so I concentrate on that.
John - Ok, another hot button issue right now is the player's conduct both on and off the field. There have been a lot of arrests and incidents that have brought a lot of negative attention to the NFL. Now, with Adam "Pacman" Jones and his issues he possibly faces a full year suspension from the game. What's your take on that and how these guys are representing you as an NFL player?
Thomas - Well, these guys need to learn how to control themselves. You get a position you've worked for all your life and potentially blow it all in one night, I don't really understand how some guys can do that.
John - As a player, how important is it to evaluate character in the scouting process?
Thomas - Character is very important in players, especially now. You can't really judge a guy on one incident, we're young and people make mistakes. Once it continues it's hard to say "Hey I messed up. "Pacman" for example is on his tenth violation, you've got to draw the line somewhere. Now to suspend him for the whole year, I don't know, in order to do what we do you've got to love it, so it's a lot to take away a whole season from a player, but 10 incidents is a lot too.
John - I agree that something has to be done; you can't continue on this path and not get punished for it. "Pacman" will probably serve as the example, but he put himself in that position.
Back to X's and O's. There was a lot said this year about the defense and some of the leads that were lost this year in the fourth quarter, while it's easy to blame the defense you have to look a little further and realize that the offenses inability to move the ball kept you guys on the field a lot. To place all the blame on your shoulders is a bit unfair…
Thomas - Hey, with us that's the way we want it. We want that pressure on us as a defense and that's the way we practice. We feel like were capable of pulling out those games, unfortunately we let some get away, but we want it in our hands every time and feel like we can get it done.
John - Despite those problems you still managed to finish with the 7th best defense in the league.
Thomas - That's with missing Morgan and both starting cornerbacks in a couple games. A lot of guys came in and stepped up and played well. Hangartner, Bridges, Marshall and a couple others played very well. We had a little bit of the injury bug this season, but we did pretty well considering that. I've been rehabbing with Wharton and he's doing really well getting back, he's moving around very well and we're really looking forward to getting Travelle back this year. Richard Marshall came in and played very well and did what was asked of him, he really just played lights out.
Ken Lucas is doing well, not many people know that he had the same injury that I had, he didn't know about it until he had an MRI and had to have the same surgery I had. So he's doing real well and anxious to get back at it.
John -How hard is it to come back from an injury like that?
Thomas - It's not hard, the worst part was after surgery with the pain, but once I was able to move it around a little and start rehab it's been pretty good.
John - It has to be nice having someone like Kris Jenkins around to lean on after missing almost two complete seasons, going through the ups and downs with depression and battling alcoholism. Seeing him come back and being voted to the Pro-bowl has to be some motivation for you and others who sustain injuries.
Thomas - That's why I'm really love playing linebacker position now, those big guys taking up offensive lineman, allowing me to run around and make plays. There's no feeling like it. But having guys like him around, who've been through the injuries before definitely help with staying motivated and sticking with your rehab and focusing on the future.
John - What do you think of a lot of criticism the team, specifically the defense has drawn in regards to stopping the run? Many people are saying that Kemoeatu has been a disappointment and Jenkins wasn't up to par either, despite the Pro-bowl honors?
Thomas - Oh yeah, Kemo is going to do a lot better job this year, last year was his first here with this defense and it's hard to learn on the fly. You'll see him improve as he gets more comfortable with the guys and the way we do things here.
John - How do you deal with some of the unrealistic expectations that always seem to loom over players, especially those in a successful organization like the Panthers?
Thomas - You set your own goals as a player and a team, usually our expectations and goals are higher than the fans. It's easy to sit on the outside and say so and so didn't do as well as he wanted to, well…we didn't play as well as we wanted to either, so sometimes it just takes time for things to come together.
John - Well, I'll wrap it up on that note, thank you for your time and I wish you and the team the best of luck going into next season. Anything you would like for me to convey to some of the fan who will read this?
Thomas - Thanks for your support and the support of all the fans, it helps us more than they realize and please have them check out my website. www.thomasdavis47.com