Dontarrious Thomas is known for walking around the players' lower level of Winter Park and belting out an off-key song. When it comes to free agency, however, the Vikings' backup linebacker is singing the right tune as far as the team is concerned.
Thomas didn't get an opportunity to play much on defense in 2007 with starting linebackers E.J. Henderson, Ben Leber and Chad Greenway enjoying a relatively healthy and productive season together. Yet, Thomas, earlier in his career considered a potential starter, would like to return to the Vikings.
"Definitely it's a place I'd want to come back to. I'm comfortable here. I've been here for all four years. This team drafted me, so it's comfortable for me with the area," he said. "It's a good place for me to end your career with, but we'll see. Hopefully we can get something together."
This is Thomas' first dance with free agency, and his value wasn't helped when he had to work through a groin injury that hampered the end of his 2007 season. He played through the injury while contributing mainly on special teams, but it didn't help the opportunities he had to put his athleticism on film. He played in only three of the final six games, but even if he wasn't fighting through the groin strain, just being an unrestricted free agent for the first time is challenging enough to deal with.
"You think about that, but you've just got to move forward and let the chips fall. You definitely want to get out there and play and put your best foot forward," he said. "I just want to go out there, period. This is my career and this is what I do. Anytime I get a chance to get out there on the field, I'm going to try to get out there as quickly as possible."
Thomas said that he was the primary backup at all three linebacker positions as far as he knew, but he wasn't able to register a single defensive statistic this year as the three starters didn't have to sit out one game. While that was good for the Vikings, Thomas said it is a "show-me" game and his chances to play have been on the decline.
As a second-round draft pick in 2004, Thomas started five of the 16 games in which he played and even had a 16-tackle game against Chicago early that year. In his second season, he started two games in the first month of the season and was used as a backup the rest of the way.
Then came 2006, when the Vikings installed a new defensive scheme with a new defensive coordinator. He showed his versatility in starting the season for an injured Ben Leber, then finished the season with two starts for an injured Napoleon Harris at middle linebacker. The way he was used early in his career has helped him adapt to different linebacker positions and responsibilities as the circumstances have changed, he said.
"When I came in my rookie year, we kind of started off the bat playing multiple positions. I think that kind of helped me adapt to the changes throughout my career," he said. "With (defensive coordinators Mike) Tomlin and (Leslie) Frazier, they kind of have some of the same schemes. It's just different terminology. That's one of the things that helped me out is the fact that we've kind of kept those two defenses the same."
By the beginning of March, he should know if he'll be learning another new defense with a different team or if the Vikings like what he offers as a backup enough to come to terms with him on a contract extension.
"It's one of those mixed emotions because this is the team I want to be with and hopefully we can get something done," Thomas said. "But you never know what happens. This is a business that you can be here one day and gone tomorrow. You can't let it get in your head. You just have to go out there and enjoy it while you can because this doesn't last for long."
And Thomas is well aware that a singing career isn't in his future. A donation bucket that sat in the locker room early in the season was labeled "Help send DT to ‘American Idol.'" It was left empty. He'll just have to hope that his next contract will help him pay for voice lessons.
DT Experiences Mixed Emotions of Free Agency
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