Linebacker Dontarrious Thomas says this is no different than any other week during the NFL season. He practices as if he is going to start and prepares as if he will be on the field every snap the Vikings are on defense.
Most weeks, though, Thomas is preparing as a backup to middle linebacker to Napoleon Harris. So far this season, Thomas has been a role player on defense with his knack coming on special teams.
This week, that isn't the case. Harris is nursing a dislocated wrist and did not practice for the second straight day Thursday. He is listed on the injury report as questionable, but is expected to miss Sunday's game at San Francisco. That means either Thomas will start in place of Harris at middle linebacker, or veteran Ben Leber will slide over to the middle and Thomas would replace him on the strong side.
Either way, Thomas' playing time is about to skyrocket.
"We always help each other out and we always communicate," Thomas said. "That's the one thing about this linebacker corps, we consider ourselves a close-knit group. Whenever a circumstance like this happens, (Harris) comes and helps me as much as possible. Even when he's playing he helps me as much as possible, just like when I see something when I'm watching I help him as much as possible."
"I prepare the same every week. I prepare as if I'm going to play regardless if the guy ahead of me is healthy or hurt."
After a disappointing season with the Vikings last year, Harris appears to be more comfortable in defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin's cover-2 system. Harris is fifth on the team with 33 tackles. Thomas has seven defensive tackles and five special teams tackles.
"My role still is as a special-teams player and you have to go out there and put your best foot forward," Thomas said. "If I'm not getting the job done, obviously I won't be here."
The Vikings had high hopes for Thomas when they drafted him in 2004. With better than average speed for a linebacker they had hoped he would work his way into a starting role by now. As a rookie in 2004, he played all 16 games and made 59 tackles. Last year in 14 games, he made 48 tackles.
"We've got great confidence in Dontarrious," Tomlin said. "If Dontarrious is on the field, he'll do a great job. If Ben Leber is playing (middle linebacker), we expect him to do a great job. That's the nature of this business. It's a bottom-line business."
All Vikings defenders admit they didn't achieve the bottom line last week against New England.
"It's definitely going to be nice to get back on the field and try to get rid of that bitter taste in our mouths," Thomas said. "We just need to go out and have a good performance Sunday."
LB Thomas Says He's Ready
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