Surrounded by many familiar faces, Thomas, 28, will attempt to jump-start his NFL career, not as the main man in Buffalo but as a backup to Willis McGahee.
"Some things you have to live with," said Thomas during the club's recent mini-camp. "I know I'm not in my prime any more. We knew what the situation was when we came here. We know (McGahee) is going to be No. 1. You just have to prepare yourself like you're going to be No. 1, just in case anything happens. Third down, short yardage, goal line, anywhere, I just want to go in wherever I can fit in and try to help out."
As a rookie in 2001, Thomas, Michigan's career rushing leader, gained a team rookie-record 1,183 yards and helped Chicago finish 13-3. A wrist injury limited him to 721 yards in 2002, but he bounced back with another 1,000-yard season in 2003. After gaining just 404 yards the next season and losing his starting job to Thomas Jones, Thomas was released.
He nearly signed with the Bills in 2005 but elected to play backup to Jones' brother, Julius, in Dallas. He was released by mid-season, hooked up with New Orleans, where he played sparingly the rest of the season.
The Bills need a more heavy-duty backup to McGahee than Shaud Williams (5-7, 193). Second-year man Lionel Gates (6-0, 233) has potential but no experience. Thomas (6-2, 225) is a big back who can catch the ball and could prove useful in situational play.
"He's another guy who brings competition," Jauron said of Thomas. "He's done it in this league, he brings experience. We need people to push Willis. We know how good Willis is and we're depending on him to be that good. But we need competition, as much as we can get, everywhere."
Jauron lauded Thomas for his dependability in Chicago and praised his character. But he's got to prove he's got something left.
"I feel comfortable I can go in and play any time," Thomas said. "If anything happens and I have to step in and play, I have no doubts in my ability to go out there and play and be a starter."
Not only did Eddie Moore fail to make a splash as a 2003 second-round draft choice, Miami couldn't trade him to upgrade its linebacker corps.
The Dolphins and New Orleans had agreed to a linebacker-for-linebacker swap, with Moore heading to the Saints and Miami acquiring 2004 second-round pick Courtney Watson. But the deal was nullified when Moore failed a Saints physical because of a problematic right knee.
Moore's rights reverted to the Dolphins, who declined comment on the aborted trade. But Moore's future with the franchise is obviously in question after three injury-plagued seasons.
Moore failed to develop into the starter and special teams contributor the previous Dolphins coaching regime envisioned when he was chosen with the No. 49 overall choice in the 2003 draft. Moore spent his entire rookie season on injured reserve with a foot injury, then had his next two seasons end prematurely because of knee injuries.
Moore appeared in only five games last season, playing exclusively on special teams, before being placed on injured reserve because of his knee. Moore had surgery last November for a chordal defect, which is potentially severe cartilage damage and cracks or shattering of the bone beneath it.
Watson also ended his 2005 season on injured reserve with a knee injury. Watson, though, already has proven a more productive player than Moore during his first two NFL seasons. Watson had 71 tackles as a rookie and started five games last season before losing the spot to veteran Ronald McKinnon.
The Dolphins still may try to acquire Watson from the Saints in another trade.
Moore is another example of the poor drafts from the Dave Wannstedt/Rick Spielman era of 2000-2004. The Class of 2003 was especially disastrous, starting with Miami's decision to select Moore instead of addressing a more pressing need at wide receiver in the second round by choosing Anquan Boldin.
The only two remaining players from the 2003 draft class are center Wade Smith (third round) and safety Yeremiah Bell (sixth). Smith will be battling for a roster spot in training camp, while Bell is expected to contribute primarily on special teams.
The other six players chosen -- guard Taylor Whitley (third), tight end Donald Lee (fifth), wide receiver J.R. Tolver (fifth), linebacker Corey Jenkins (sixth), tackle Tim Provost (sixth) and defensive tackle Davern Williams (seventh) -- are no longer with the team.
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It was the unit most in need of an overhaul on the Jets.
The team's 2005 woes were exemplified best by a struggling, injury-ravaged offensive line that lost two starters -- center Kevin Mawae and tackle Jason Fabini -- for the season. Quarterbacks Chad Pennington and Jay Fiedler were lost for the season in one game in September thanks to leaky pass protection, and Curtis Martin and the running game never got out of the starting blocks.
Both Mawae and Fabini have since been released, and the new line should have a very greenish hue, even when the Jets wear their road whites. Fourth overall draft choice D'Brickashaw Ferguson figures to be the Jets' starter at left tackle, while No. 29 selection Nick Mangold will challenge free-agent signee Trey Teague for the job at center.
"D'Brickashaw is a dominant player at his position," first-year coach Eric Mangini said. "The left tackle position is extremely difficult to fill offensively.
"D'Brickashaw impressed me when he came to visit us," Mangini added. "Here's a guy who's been successful in college and has had all the hype that goes along with the draft process, but he's grounded. What he's looking forward to is improving as a player and working hard to go from a really good college player to a really great professional player. To hear that was impressive."
According to some scouts, the 6-6, 313-pound Ferguson could stand to be a bit more aggressive and perhaps could put on about 15 more pounds. Other than that, nobody sees very many holes in the former Virginia standout's game.
General manager Mike Tannenbaum said, "Rarely is it so pronounced that the need and the board match up, and that's why we are so excited about D'Brickashaw."
If Ferguson turns out to be the perennial Pro Bowler the Jets are hoping for, Jets fans with long memories may be forced to give some credit to, of all people, Al Groh, who was Ferguson's college coach.
"We have researched players thoroughly," Tannenbaum said. "It's nice to have a good relationship with Al Groh."
Groh, of course, left the Jets after one year as coach to go back to Virginia, his alma mater.
"My coaches, (offensive coordinator) Ron Prince and Al Groh, they were big on technique. I know this is a technical game," Ferguson said, "and there are more things that I have to learn as far as the technique of the NFL. I understand that there are veterans that take advantage of their longevity in the league to take advantage of the draftees.
"I know myself and Nick (Mangold) are in similar situations. So I see us befriending each other really quickly just so we can learn how to really play this game and have success in the end."
Mangold's scouting report is much the same. While scouts believe the Ohio State product could use some extra weight, he also is very athletic and excels at pulling on sweeps, much like Ferguson. Mangold, too, is technically sound and intelligent, and reminds some of Mawae.
"Nick is incredibly smart," Mangini said of the 6-4, 299-pound lineman. "He took care of all their line calls and got their offensive line set. He's a good young player. He does have the versatility to go from center to guard, which will help us."
Mangini was evasive when asked about the chances of Mangold starting as a rookie, although it appears he has a legitimate chance.
"I don't know where the coaching staff wants me or how they'll use me, but wherever they want to put me, I'd love to be," Mangold said. "Just as long as I get to contribute, no matter how that is, I want to be there."