Healthy, confident Phillip Thomas catching coaches’ eyes

RICHMOND – As he has watched Phillip Thomas through five training camp practices, a couple of things in particular have stood out to defensive backs coach Raheem Morris.

Phillip Thomas
Phillip Thomas could compete for a starting job at safety. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

For one, Thomas has fully regained the athleticism and quickness that made him an all-American safety at Fresno State in 2012 and prompted Washington to draft him in the fourth round in 2013. (A preseason lisfranc injury required surgery and cost Thomas all of his rookie season). Thomas has had no ill effects from his foot injury. He said while running around, he doesn’t even think about it anymore.

Secondly, Morris has observed the confidence that Thomas has on the field. He recognizes offensive formations, knows the defense well, and how it should react, and where he and his teammates should line up accordingly.

Because of that confidence, Thomas has become very vocal, just as any coach wants from a player that serves as one of the last lines of defense.

“[Morris has] complimented me on being more vocal,” said Thomas, who has made a number of plays in training camp. “Last year, coming in as a rookie, there’s a lot of stuff being thrown at you and you’re not as adjusted or acclimated to the system yet, so I was known as a non-verbal guy. This year, I’m just being more vocal, I understand the playbook a lot better, I learned a lot of things, and it’s just become natural to me so I can go out there and play.”

Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett plans to start eighth-year veteran Brandon Meriweather at strong safety ahead of Thomas, and 13th-year pro Ryan Clark at free safety ahead of 2013 sixth-round pick Bacarri Rambo. With both Meriweather and Clark playing on one-year deals, coaches hope that eventually the young players can take over. But for the time being, Thomas aims to learn as much as he can from the seasoned veterans.

“They have a lot of wisdom and know how to stay in this game,” the 6-foot, 210-pound Thomas said. “They teach us to run to the ball. You can’t coach hustle. That’s all on you. They tell us to prepare as a professional. I appreciate them a lot because they’re going to point you out when you do something wrong, and I’m going to need them for a lot of things.”

Thomas knows nothing is set in stone when it comes to starting jobs, and so, he aims to do whatever possible to force his way into the discussion during the coaches’ meetings for planning out lineups and playing time.

“That’s just the name of the game. I’m trying to take their spot, and there’s no question about it,” Thomas said. “Anything I can do to make it interesting and make the coaches think, ‘Maybe Phil should be in.’ And they know that. They know and I know they’re helping me be the best player I can be. I don’t wish this on anybody, but something could happen to anybody what happened to me: one play could change the whole season around and you need the depth and someone to step in so things will still run smoothly.”

Have a Redskins question? Send an e-mail to mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line “Mailbag question,” and it might be answered on Tuesday in The Mailbag.

What’s ahead:

Washington’s next practice is 8:35 a.m. Wednesday. Here’s our camp guide, if you’re planning to attend.

Also from The Post:

Hatcher signing lit fire under DE Jenkins

Healthy Porter joins defensive back competition

Mailbag: On offensive line depth and practice squad candidates

New addition Everette Brown ready to play catch up

More NFL coverage: Home page | D.C. Sports Bog | The Early Lead | Fancy Stats

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Mike Jones covers the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post. When not writing about a Redskins development of some kind – which is rare – he can be found screaming and cheering at one of his kids’ softball, baseball, soccer or basketball games.
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