One of the keys to the offseason for the Colts was to improve the offensive line. Whilst the signing of Lions right tackle Gosder Cherilus provides an upgrade over Winston Justice, the interior of the line provided the most concern.
And whilst the media regularly linked the team with moves for Buffalo Bills guard Andy Levitre and Louis Vasquez of the Chargers, General Manager Ryan Grigson chose not to pursue the bigger names on the market and instead moved for New England Patriots guard Donald Thomas.
A 27-year old lineman formerly of the Miami Dolphins and Detroit Lions, Thomas started just 7 games for the Patriots in 2012, mostly serving as a backup to Logan Mankins. However, Thomas impressed during his limited playing time, and Pro Football Focus graded Thomas at +10.2 for the 2012 season, ranking him as the 4th best interior lineman available in free agency – above Vasquez.
The contract seems friendly too – 4 years at $14m is probably one of the more frugal moves the Colts made this week, particularly for someone who played well at both left and right guard.
From watching the footage of Patriots games, Thomas is a good pass protector, but also has the ability to drive linemen back to open up running lanes. It's these abilities that make him incredibly useful at both guard positions.
The first two plays are from the game against the Colts, with Thomas usually up against Fili Moala. The first play shown looks at his run blocking, and the particular play featured shows him at left guard.
Initially, Moala looks to have the leverage to stop Stevan Ridley from earning a huge gain, but Thomas regains his balance and manages to prevent Moala from making the stop, and Ridley gains 8 yards.
The next play has Thomas showing his pass protection skills, again against Fili Moala.
Moala was trying to get inside of Thomas and get after Tom Brady, as the Patriots came out in an empty backfield set.
Thomas shows great footwork to beat a shake by Moala, and seal off the threat, allowing Brady to complete to Wes Welker for another 8 yard gain.
However, Thomas does have some problems getting out of his stance at times, and this was evident in some of the games.
This is the first play of the game against the Jets – yes, the buttfumble game – and Thomas is lined up at left guard, facing Muhammad Wilkerson.
Thomas displays a high pad level which allows Wilkerson to get leverage and blow past him, forcing Brady into an intentional grounding call. This is indicative of some technical issues that Thomas has, but the good plays tend to outweigh the bad.
Given the atrocious play of Mike McGlynn, Jeff Linkenbach and Joe Reitz last season, Thomas will come in and provide a huge upgrade to the offensive line, something the Colts had to improve, given that they face J.J. Watt twice a year. His all around game makes me believe that the Colts have a solid player on their hands, and in a position of dire need.
Oh, forgot to say, very nice write-up on Thomas. Thanks for the insight. I know there's been a lot of moaning about the FA signings, but they seem safe and productive to me, if not staggeringly good or bad. If you are gonna overpay or whiff entirely, make it on a $4M annual deal rather than a $12M annual deal.
Do you now what makes my physically ill about the photographs above? Any takers? The bottom Pats/Colts photo. If someone snipped out Brady's picture and asked people what this man was doing, how many non NFL fans would say, looking out a window, or waiting for a bus? He is standing in the pocket, knees locked as usual, feet offset, just casually tossing the ball to his pal. NO need to drive with his back leg, no need to lunge with his lead leg. His right foot is slightly on the toe, indicating he rocked his weight back and forth rather than actually strained himself to throw. Like one does when tossing a ball to a little kid.
Nearest Colt (Freeney) is six feet away, falling to his knees, and there is an OL between them at any rate. With that protection and our DBs, why didn't Brady order a pizza, knit a sweater, and wait for Randy Moss to re-sign with the team and then fly into town, drop off his bags, suit up, and run a deep pattern? He could probably have also fit in a manicure and Brazilian wax. Not easy to be great under any circumsatances, but it's a lot easier with the Great Wall of Foxboro keeping the Marauding Horde at bay.
@Bobman1 oh man, I just read this comment, and ...it...is...brilliant. That is, after all, the o line that helped make Matt Cassell look good.
@Bobman1 Mucho humor.
A good read. Thinking of setting up my own blog, just wondering what software you used to create the diagrams? Thanks.
Perhaps the rap against Thomas is the number of snaps he can play per game at a high level? How many snaps did Thomas average per game last year? Consistency over the course of a game seemed to be downfall of the much of the 2012 OL, not outright "atrocious play". The sheer number of passing downs the Colts attempt, along with Luck's desire to extend the play, will take its toll on any OL line. Ideally you have a stud who plays just about ever down during a game, but again you have to be willing & able to pay for that. If you're comfortable with Thomas at 4yrs/14 mil as rotational player, then the Colts got a good deal but perhaps not a steal. Which begs the question,. what rotation at guard do you anticipate as working?
It appears the key concept that the Colts front office looked for in 2013 free agency was complementary fit. The individual FAs may not be anticipated as outstanding starters, with the exception of Cherilus and perhaps Landry, but if they are willing to play particular roles that allow other existing Colts to get back to their own strengths then they make sense and bring added value. Thinking of Waldron, Landry, and Francois respective to Mathis, Bethea and the DL.
None of the Colts free agents seem to be high risks of being outright busts or grossly overvalued. This year Jennings, Wallace, Kruger and Avril all seemed risky for the Colts in terms of a combination of injury history, value, cap exposure, attitude, scheme fit or position.
I'm actually pretty optimistic about this guy. Thomas is relatively new to organized football. He didn't play until his sophomore year at UConn, where he walked on. He was an immediate starter in Miami, but had a Lisfanc fracture (the Freeney injury). He started the next year and was cut in 2010, an unpopular move with some Dolphins fans.
Anyway, NE was too deep along the offensive line, so he came here for a chance to start. I think he'll do alright. Heck, he has a lot less football wear and tear on his body than a lot of players his age.
I'm not crazy about Walden except that it puts Mathis in a better position. So I agree about some of these guys allowing guys like Mathis and Bethea get back to their natural roles.
Nice write up. Thomas should be a significant upgrade. Hopefully the Colts other guards can avoid getting injured and step up.
On a slightly different topic, Is it just me or Barnwell over on Grantland have a hate on for Grigson and the Colts?
@hankster Thank you - I'm still learning a lot about the game, so recommendations welcome.
@hankster Remember people writing for Grantland are generally New England Patriots fans. They have a strong bias and agenda. I guess we do to some degree as well, since we're all Colts fans here, but knowing where they're coming from puts guys like Barnwell and Simmons in perspective. ESPN is about an hour drive from Foxborough, so as hard as they try not to be biased, that's still their home team.
@MarcusDugan You are, of course, right about Simmons. But Barnwell is a Giants fan. And he has been hard on the Colts this free agency period, both in print and on Simmons PodCast. But I really think Barnwell is critical of anyone he believes pays too much early for players, when if a team is patient, they can get a player 90% as good and much cheaper.
So save for Walden (who Barnwell really does not like) l I think he just believes the Colts over paid for who they got.
@AJ_ Well, I'm not going to say that Barnwell does not occassionaly suck up to his boss. (Simmons)
Still, in the context i was referring to about Barnwell's criticism of how the Colts have handled free agency, I don't believe it was based on any agenda towards Indy. Instead, it is about his contention, that teams that jump in early tend to way overpay for players.
(And he has no love whatsoever for Walden.)
And regarding Welker, he did acknowledge that the Broncos are getting the perfect player for them at a great price. Still, I agree that I am still waiting for the article about how the great Patriots let Richard Seymore and Assante Samuel leave too soon that probably cost them at least one more Super Bowl.
@DougEngland Not trying to pick a fight with Doug here, but I have to disagree with letting Barnewell off of his New England love. His last piece talking about Welker was basically a love pean to Bellichick's genius and the Patriots supposed inability to fail at anything they do. There's not only zero hint that the Pats may have screwed up, but a long winded excuse that they actually manipulated things to their benefit.
In other contexts, what he did would be called "fellatio".
He may be a Giants fan, but I don't think even Kraft's PR department would've tried saying what he did about the situation.
@MarcusDugan Regarding the Pacers brawl, i can't remember who compiled it, but that was one of those oral histories. And that was awesome with all the people they got to comment.
@DougEngland Wow. I was way off on Barnwell. Goes to show how little attention I pay to Grantland. I did like their write up on the 2004 Ron Artest brawl from the Pacers point of view. I can't remember who write it though.
Nate joked about a poster at Bleacher Report that was constantly saying every team in need of a QB should sign Vince Young.
While I wouldn't put myself in that level of fanatical devotion, i would say that I don't think Joe Reitz was atrocious last year, just injuried. And I think when healthy, he can be more than a servicable guard for the Colts.
@DougEngland I would like to see Reitz hang around. He is solid depth if nothing else.
Speaking of Nate, does anyone know why he will no longer be at Bleacher Report? Where's he going?
@bradicus18 @DougEngland Nate has other broom projects he wants to work on, and he likes writing for Colts Authority, which he'll be able to do with more regularity now. Whoever takes over that position at b/r will need lots of spare time. That's some high volume writing right there. And they'll have a tough act to follow.
@DougEngland @Bobman1 I'll be honest. I had too google Chudley Cannons to get the reference. Then I laughed. Very clever.
@DougEngland On top of the volume, he had to stay up to date on four teams, and set aside his biases to be mostly objective. It could not have been an easy gig.
@MarcusDugan Impossible act to follow I'd say. I can't believe all the material Nate was putting out over there. (And still managing to be creative with almost every post.)
Ah yes, I thought he was taking up covering the Chudley Cannons games.
@DougEngland Collectively pretty bad - Reitz was unreliable health wise, not sure we can depend on him in the long term.
@OllyDawes @DougEngland I want Reitz to work out. He's a former basketball player from Carmel, just north of Indianapolis and grew up a Colts fan. He, like Thomas, hasn't been playing football for very long. He's the kind of guy that's easy to root for, but I'm afraid he may just be injury-prone. After all, he did have to add 60+ pounds to his frame in a short time to play at his position.
@MarcusDugan @OllyDawes @DougEngland To be honest, I just wanted someone to replace McGlynn and Linkenbach. I think Reitz would be fine if it weren't for his health, so depth is actually good for him. Durability isn't as much of an issue if you aren't taking 100% of the offensive snaps. Personally I'd rather have a new OG than any receiver Irsay is trying to get other than Garcon, whom we all love but it far too expensive.