The Long and Winding Tenure of Bryan Thomas, plus other notes

No matter whether the sport has a salary cap, shares revenue, or operates entirely on the premise of a completely free market, it is always noteworthy when an individual player remains with his initial franchise for a time exceeding four or five years. Usually, the athlete in question performs exceptionally well to maintain professional stability. And the relationship with his employer is certainly symbiotic. Both General Managers and Owners crave continuity, a sure sign of sound management. Always better to be accused of complacency, rather than outright incompetence. But there are certain exceptions to this rule, for sure.

A player could receive a deserved payday, only to see performance crater thereafter, either coincidentally, or as a symptom for declining passion. Where it concerns the National Football League, the freshly minted multi-millionaire malingerers are often released without hesitation. When the player disappoints, ties are cut, swiftly, so long the salary cap isn’t too adversely affected. In other sports, the process is far more complicated. Long-term commitments can become albatrosses. But even then, the player’s development, or lack thereof, is noteworthy. Something distinguishable has occurred, maybe negatively, but still notable.

And then there are cases even more unique. A player crusading the fringe for years, eventually settling into a groove, straddling a fine line between uninspiring competence and easily replaceable mediocrity.

Meet Bryan Thomas. Oh wait, scratch that. If you are a Jets fan, and the chances are extremely likely that this is the case, you probably know Mr. Thomas quite well… in terms of that whole fan-player dynamic, anyway.

Thomas, a defensive end who plied his pass rushing trade at U.A.B., was selected by the Jets with the twenty-second overall pick way back in the 2002 draft. For a little perspective, back then; Vinny Testaverde was locked-in as starting quarterback for the upcoming season. Curtis Martin still had three years of top-flight production left. Herman Edwards was entering his second year coaching the team. Tom Brady was the miracle kid who’d just won his first, and surely only, Super Bowl ring with the Patriots. Everyone was in agreement that the Rams were destined to be the premier team of the decade. Heady days. And here we are in 2010. Bryan Thomas is still a member of the New York Jets.

Thomas’ stat sheet paints an odd picture. He collected three sacks in his first three years combined, the symmetry apparent, but productivity definitely missing. It appeared he was a bust, the uptick to 3.5 sacks in ’05 barely noticed, amidst an absolutely disastrous campaign for the Jets. But suddenly, that 2006 leaps forth, like a bright brilliant spark thrown from a waning fire-pit.

When Jets fans crowed about the genius of first year coach Eric Mangini, they could point to Thomas as definite evidence. His heretofore, unexplored versatility tapped by the novice Head Coach, Thomas morphed into a monstrous 3-4 hybrid, a converted linebacker who could also dig in the trenches. He became the type of two-dimensional defensive threat coveted around the League, especially by Mangini’s former employer, who always erred on the side of flexibility when piecing together a roster. For a brief little while, the blossoming of Bryan Thomas was convincing proof that the Jets had got it right with Mangini. Unsurprisingly, a multi-year contract extension followed, which included nine million in guarantees.

A bust? Perish the thought.  Thomas’ long-term residency on the Jets is easily explainable. His athleticism and adaptability make him a perfect fit for the 3-4. He has expressed refreshing candor about his performance in the past.  And the Birmingham native has survived two separate coaching changes, proof of his usefulness.

Even still, the disappointment preceding his breakout returned in 2007, before softening somewhat with 5.5 sacks in ’08. In 2009, Bryan Thomas became somewhat of a forgotten man.  Collecting only two quarterback takedowns, as a part of a defense which struggled mounting pressure without flood blitzing, this rather pedestrian effort was lost amid a shuffle including a boisterous new coach, outlandishly gifted cornerback, recently acquired big name receiver, and other major headlines.

Thomas still has a chance to add another victorious chapter to his Jets legacy, his importance magnified by Calvin Pace’s broken foot.   “(I’m taking over) just a lot of the covering he was doing out there, as far as, man-to-man and doing some of that stuff,” said Thomas, regarding his role, now that Pace is injured. “I’ll be taking over a lot of the things that JT (Jason Taylor) is still trying to learn, (so) it won’t be so complicated (and he can) just go out and do his thing.”

But Thomas was adamant that he wasn’t replacing Pace, in the strict sense of the word. “It’s not like that.  It isn’t flip-flopping.  It’s not just, ‘Ok, I’m going to play Calvin’s side.’  I don’t know if you all have noticed, but Calvin and me, a lot of times, we just switch sides. Once the formation breaks, (you) just stay on your side and go from there because we both knew both sides (of the formation).  Now, I have to do a lot of stuff, (but) JT knows a lot of that as well, so we’ll just go from there.  It’s just having JT step up faster than most people expected.”

Thomas values the interchangeable nature of the Jets’ defense, a strength reflecting his own attributes. “That’s when it really works.  When you first come in, Rex (Ryan), Mike Pettine and all the defensive coaches have you line up (on) both sides.  Just in case something like this happens, you already know both positions (and) both sides-the strong and the weakside outside linebacker position.  JT knows a lot of that stuff anyway.  Calvin going down is a big void in the defense, but still you know you have someone that can step up and fill that role.”

It's been a journey for Bryan Thomas with the Jets, a story still unfinished.

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Kellen Clemens is still kicking. He was competing for a starting job recently as last season’s training camp, eventually losing the quarterback competition to rookie slinger Mark Sanchez. Upon veteran Mark Brunell’s signing as designated mentor before 2010, Clemens appeared an ill fit in green and white. When the number two job wasn’t even put up for grabs by Head Coach Rex Ryan, it seemed the final thud had sounded on Clemens’ Jet descent. But prepare the trampoline, for Ryan announced that, after an impressive preseason, Clemens had a “pretty good” chance to make the team.

“Score!” Proclaimed a joking Clemens. “That’s a heck of a lot better than it could have been.” Clemens continued, saying, “the Jets have an awesome chance to win the Super Bowl this year and I’m excited about the opportunity to be a part of it.  I really am.  I’m still not at the point in my career where I’m going to say, ‘Hey, I’m just a (number) two (quarterback).’  This year, I’m just a three, but I have a great relationship with the guys in this locker room, with a lot of the coaches here and a lot of the people upstairs.  I’m excited to be here.  I hope that I’m here and we’ll just move forward with whatever the results are come cut day.”

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Speaking of Rex Ryan and proclamations, yesterday’s presser included other intriguing bits of information.

Are any starters playing against the Eagles, including recently injured Safety Brodney Pool? “None of the starters are playing.”

Is he concerned about Donovan Warren’s concussion? “No. It’s just like (Josh) Mauga.  Mauga missed (practices).  We had that goal-line scrimmage and he had the concussion.  He actually finished the practice and then came back and had the concussion.  He hasn’t played in a single preseason game.  Obviously, if you still have symptoms, then you don’t play.  It’s as simple as that.  It’s weird.  You go back and you think about many years ago, a guy would have a concussion and it was like, ‘No big deal.  He’ll be up next week.’  That’s not the case anymore and it shouldn’t be.  You’ve got to make sure they’re a 100 percent healthy.  That’s really what we’re doing.  It’s not like back in the days where he would have played.”

Was it tough waiving Aundrae Allison? ‘He did (have a decent summer).  He’s really an outstanding young man, but I just think that it was a deal where he really can only play receiver.  You talk about the different roles where (David) Clowney is ahead of him because he does play special teams.”

Anything to the Adalius Thomas rumors? “Well, we haven’t signed (him).  I think we need to play this game and find out exactly how we have the roster set up.”

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