Much has been made this offseason of the addition of offensive lineman Gosder Cherilus, who will be starting at right tackle for the Colts. Not as much has been made of the addition of offensive lineman Donald Thomas, despite the fact that he very well could be starting on the line too.
Perhaps that has been a mistake.
With how awful the Colts' line was a year ago, it makes sense that the primary focus of the offseason would be to address that spot - and they did. All along, however, I thought that if you could identify a spot of the line that was especially bad last year, it would be the interior line. Bringing in Cherilus is without doubt a big addition for the Colts and gives them solid bookends at both tackles, but it didn't address the interior of the offensive line. Signing Donald Thomas did.
Thomas is a journeyman, having played football for the first time at the University of Connecticut since his high school didn't offer the sport. Starting out as a scout team defensive lineman, Thomas eventually made his way onto the starting offensive line and was named first team All - Big East in 2007. He was then drafted by the Miami Dolphins in the sixth round of the 2008 NFL Draft and quickly earned a starting spot there as well. In his first game, however, he injured his foot - later confirmed to be a lisfranc injury - and though he finished the game he was placed on season ending injured reserve a few days later. The following year he appeared in every game, starting 12, but was released before the start of the 2010 season. Thomas then went on upwards of ten visits (including one to Indianapolis to work out for the Colts) before signing with the Detroit Lions. Thomas never made the gameday roster with Detroit and after the 2010 season he left and was signed by the New England Patriots. In New England, Thomas was an important, glorified backup for the Patriots who stepped in and played in 26 games (starting 8) for the Patriots - including playing in every game and starting 7 a year ago. Though the Patriots wanted to re-sign him, they had a lot of money already invested in offensive lineman and couldn't pay him as a starter, nor could they offer him a starting spot. Other teams could, and Thomas quickly signed with the Colts on a 4-year, $14 million deal.
In New England, Thomas displayed his versatility and played well when given the chance. Thomas saw significant time at both left and right guard and even filled the role of fullback at times in short yardage situations. Greg Knopping of Pats Pulpit, in his article about the Patriots losing Thomas, called the lineman a "pivotal reserve" and wrote that "while he played less than half the team's snaps in 2012, they were critical snaps, and they were played at a high level."
The big question is how the 6-4, 305 pound lineman fits in with the Colts. Will he finally get to be a starter after years of being a backup in New England? If so, where on the line will he play? While we don't exactly know the answers to those questions yet, we do know that it seems to be Thomas' spot to lose on the starting o-line, and that spot appears to be left guard. At least, that appears to be the case at OTAs, as Mike Chappell tweeted:
#colts starting O-line appears to be: LT Castonzo, LG Thomas, C Satele, RG McGlynn, RT Cherilus— Mike Chappell (@mchappell51) June 5, 2013
Six of Thomas' seven starts last season were at left guard, so that at least is the position that he played the most at. Whether it is his best spot, I'm not sure, but either way the versatility he brings is definitely a plus.
Regardless of the role he ends up playing in Indy, the signing was a very good one and one that brings a versatile offensive lineman to the equation. The line needed upgrading and it certainly got one. I would feel confident in guessing that when the season starts, Thomas will be starting at some spot along the line - probably left guard. But he can play several spots and will help the Colts no matter where he is playing.
Although, unlike in New England, I doubt he'll be playing fullback in Indy.