Although Phillip Thomas did not play a single snap in 2013, the Redskins are hopeful the second-year safety can be a major contributor this season.
And it didn’t take long for Thomas to show why the team has such high hopes for him.
During Thursday’s OTA practice—the first session opened to the media this offseason—Thomas showed no ill effects from the season-ending Lisfranc injury he suffered last August.
He even made one of the day’s highlight reel plays.
[RELATED: Jay Gruden ready to coach, and delegate]
About midway through the non-contact practice, Thomas jumped in front of a Colt McCoy pass and made a diving interception near the sideline.
The eye-popping pick elicited some applause and a few hollers from his teammates. More important, it grabbed the attention of Coach Jay Gruden.
“Phillip’s done a great job,” Gruden said afterward. “He had a great interception today. He’s just getting back in the flow and [defensive backs coach Raheem Morris] is working with him and doing a good. And between [Thomas] and [Brandon] Meriweather, we expect good things from that safety spot.”
Thomas later explained: “I’m just healthy now and I’m out there doing what comes naturally to me.”
Getting healthy, however, was a long and sometimes difficult journey for the former fourth round draft pick out of Fresno State.
A year ago, Thomas was battling for a starting job when he landed awkwardly while trying to make a tackle in the team’s preseason opener. The initial hope was that he might avoid surgery. But after visiting a specialist, it was determined that he indeed required a procedure to repair the fracture and would miss his rookie season.
“I was devastated,” Thomas recalled. “First preseason game, a little bit of action and you go down for the whole season. …The recovery process? It scared me. They said this Lisfranc injury could be a real serious one. Fortunately, through God’s hands, He healed me and brought me back and I feel great, like I was before.”
As disappointed as Thomas was to lose an entire season, he said he was able to find a silver lining.
“I definitely look at it as a redshirt year,” he said. “It gave me time to learn the playbook, see what other people are doing right and try to mimic them [and] see what they’re doing wrong and keep it out of my game. It gave me time to mature and learn the defense.”
Thomas said he’s been running and cutting at full speed since early March. Getting over the mental hurdle, though, has been a more recent breakthrough.
“I’m kinda over it,” he said. “When we first got into running the team [drills], I was thinking about it. You could tell I was thinking about it. You could tell I was giving a little ground to it. But now when it’s time to play football, I have to put that in the back of my head and just go out there and leave it all on the field.”
Thomas, who wears an orthotic in his left cleat for added protection against re-injury, added: “I feel good out there now. I feel healthy. I’m running around and no setbacks.”
Based on Thursday’s rotations, Meriweather and Ryan Clark lined up as the starters at strong and free safety, respectively.
Thomas, however, is conceding nothing.
“Brandon and Ryan are veterans in this league, been doing it for a long time, and I can learn a lot from them,” he said. “[But] I’m just going out there competing and putting everything I have on that field and leaving it up to the coaches to make it a hard decision. If I don’t end up starting, I’m going to be the starter on every single special teams [unit] and run down there on kickoffs, punts and do anything I can do to help the team.”