The "joker" linebacker – the name the Vikings give to their fourth linebacker in a new 3-4 look – is just another responsibility entrusted to the fourth-year linebacker this year, as if he didn't have enough to do already.
Although Thomas won't come out and say it, Leslie Frazier confirmed that Thomas is the primary backup for each of the three linebacker spots.
"No doubt, no doubt," Frazier said. "We feel very comfortable if we lost a Sam (strongside linebacker), a Mike (middle) or a Will (weakside) that he could step in. He is that type of an athlete and he is smart enough to do it."
Right now, Thomas has been filling in for starter Ben Leber at strongside linebacker after spending last year as a three-game fill-in starter, two playing middle linebacker for Napoleon Harris and one playing on the strong side for Ben Leber. Thomas said he feels most comfortable in the middle, but he continues to study up for all three positions.
"I would say the Will (weakside) and Sam (strongside), the two outside positions, are most similar, because you pretty much know you have certain drops that you have to make on certain defenses and their drops are pretty much the same. The Mike, you've just got to read your keys and plays," Thomas said.
Said Frazier: "We have asked him to step up with Ben being out for a little while and he has had to play multiple positions, but he enjoys it because he wants to be on the football field so wherever we can get him reps, that's what he wants. He spends the time studying so he can be acclimated to each position. He has done a great job with it. His attitude has been terrific, and he is our fourth linebacker right now, so we need him to be able to, if something happens to somebody else, to be able to step in and he has done that."
Thomas likes to still consider himself a starter, but the former All-SEC Academic Honor Roll member said his academic intelligence can help him deal with the demands of learning so many positions on the field.
"You've got to put just as much effort in your books as you put in out here (on the practice field)," Thomas said. "I think every backer, especially that Mike backer, you have to be smart and know what you're doing. We like to call ourselves the quarterback of the defense. We have to get everything lined up and get everything checked out."
And the former second-round pick is still able to put a positive spin on not being a starter.
"It has its benefits, like if you don't know the defense it makes you learn the defense well," he said. "I'll be more well-rounded as far as what they do. You just have to get in there and get in that playbook. It's something I did last year and got used to it. …"
"Whether I'm starting or not, I'm going to consider myself as a starter."
Notes from a shorter afternoon practice, conducted in soft pads:
"I just came out here to see how it feels and went through practice. It felt pretty good, but I'm just taking it day-by-day right now," said Taylor.
Peterson was able to walk briskly without any obvious pain. The Vikings believe he took an elbow to the hip from a defender.
Not long after Nance's drop, he caught a long pass between the coverage on a ball thrown by Henson.