Josh Thomas is confident in his abilities. The Minnesota Vikings cornerback that is on his fifth team in five years is experiencing a different brand of coaching and trying to meld the best of what’s he has learned in the past with the best of what he is receiving in Minnesota.
Here, Thomas is learning detailed techniques that are new to his growth. With the Carolina Panthers to start his career, he found a defensive backs coach that preached a tough mental attitude.
“One of my best coaches I’ve had before this was Stephen Wilkes at Carolina and he was more like, ‘We strain every day at practice.’ What I got from him is you’ve got to come to work every day. You’ve got to be a dog because the next guy behind you is trying to take your opportunity so you’ve got to do everything to control the opportunity,” Thomas said. “By controlling that, you’re going to do your job. I’ve had a tenacity about myself from him, but that has kind of fed my aggression.”
With the Vikings, there is a different approach. Head coach Mike Zimmer is a stickler for techniques. He has talked about trying to get first-round draft pick Trae Waynes to stop grabbing receivers in coverage, and that point of emphasis could apply to Thomas, too.
“I never learned to control my aggression until last year. I’ve been a couple other places where they ask me to do this, they tell me not to do that,” Thomas said. “Before when I was doing it for three years at Carolina and now I’m here and I see Coach Zimmer and all the coaches on board and coaching the same thing, everything is in sync and they’re giving you small details. ‘Turn your toe’ sounds like something very petty, but it makes a huge difference in your game. It really does. Little (pointers) like that, I take note, I write it down, I go home, I think about it, I come here, I see it in the classroom, and I go on the field and now it’s time to put it in action. This is a great experience because I’ve never had this much detail-oriented coaching versus go out there and be the hard dog football player that you are. This is really good.”
Defensive coordinator George Edwards said Thomas has done a good job of picking up the different techniques being taught in Minnesota. Thomas didn’t have the luxury of spending the offseason with the Vikings. He was signed on July 25, just in time to make it to training camp.
“He’s really done a nice job picking up what we’re doing, technique-wise. I like the way he aggressively attacks everything. He’s competing every day,” Edwards said. “Mentally, he’s still catching on to some of the things that we’re doing, but his attention to detail and how hard he works and from what I understand, he’s a good special teams player also. We’ve been impressed with his work ethic since he’s been in here.”
Thomas has also been called out a couple times by Zimmer as an under-the-radar player he likes.
But his road to Minnesota has been filled with twists and turns. He was a fifth-round draft choice of the Dallas Cowboys in 2011 but was claimed off waivers by the Panthers, where he spent three seasons. When the Panthers released him last year, he spent time with the New York Jets, Detroit Lions and Seattle Seahawks.
“Every defensive scheme is a little bit different. Guys mature and sort of get a grasp of different schemes a little bit better and the opportunities that you end up getting from one place to another can vary, so not surprising,” Edward said. “If you look around the league it happens every year with certain guys until they find their niche and they catch on and usually have a good career.”
All of those changes in locale meant different philosophies and techniques.
“Personally, as a player, I don’t doubt any of my abilities. I feel I can adapt to any scheme,” Thomas said. “I think last year I missed out on an opportunity of being coached, so situational things do happen. That’s just the nature of the business. Being here, I’ve had more hands-on coaching and I’ve benefitted more from that, just knowing the player that I am, the person that I am of how I retain information.”
Seattle played more zone. Others schemes asked for a variety of responsibilities, but the Vikings want their cornerbacks to be able to play man defense, yet control their aggression.
It’s a lesson one of Thomas’ former teammates with Panthers, and now a current teammate again, Captain Munnerlyn had to learn.
“Captain is a very aggressive player. Him and I have a lot of similarities in that aspect,” Thomas said. “We can be a little bit too aggressive at times. Actually, when I came here, it was like, ‘We don’t want to get hands on them. That’s not our goal. Our goal is to be on top. Our goal is to stop the deep ball. Our goal is to compete on the outs.’ For me, it’s always been, ‘Get your hands on. Get your hands on.’ A lot of times when you play that aggressive you don’t necessarily to see the opportunities or be in position to make a play on the ball. You’re inches away from an interception, but you’re getting deflections.”
From the comments of the coaches, he seems to be developing, although he said he hasn’t personally received that feedback. Of course, with Zimmer’s focus on the details and demand for perfection, Thomas isn’t surprised he has received any personalized accolades.
“I wouldn’t really care for any feedback from Coach Zimmer. I would just want an opportunity to come out here and do my job,” Thomas said. “I’ve had a journey of a lot of situations where I was not very interested in coming to practice only because of how they did business. Here, it’s really professional. The coaches come here to do their job. You know what to expect. They just really make it seamless and easy, especially with a new guy like me who just got here. I don’t need any distractions. All I need is my playbook, my coach to come do his job and for me to do my job to help him out. That’s what it’s all about – team.
“I’m not interested in the past four years and what I’ve been through. I’m more interested in right now because I’m a good player, I’m a damn good player, and I know that the sky is the limit for me. I don’t let those things, outside sources, dictate what I can do on the field.”
CB Josh Thomas: ‘I’m a damn good player’
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