After the 2012 NFL season, the Colts entered the offseason looking to improve their offensive line. They drafted a few players (Khaled Holmes and Hugh Thornton) and signed a few others, including right tackle Gosder Cherilus and guard Donald Thomas.
There was plenty of reason for optimism about Thomas, who would enter the season as the starting left guard. He was a very solid lineman who hopefully would help the offensive line noticeably. And in the team's first game of the 2013 season, that was true, as Thomas looked good. Early in that second game, however, he was injured. On the same drive, he tore his biceps and tore his quad, forcing him to miss the remainder of the season.
He made a comeback, and there was hope that he could step in and be the team's starter again in 2014. Unfortunately, during a routine 11-on-11 drill in training camp with minimal contact, Thomas went down again. It was clear right away that it was serious, and it turned out that he had re-tore the same quad that put him out for the 2013 season, putting Thomas out for the entire 2014 season before it even began.
And that's where we stand right now - with Thomas recovering from his second straight torn quad. In two seasons with the Colts, Thomas has played 70 total offensive snaps. And a lot of the optimism of the past few years has been replaced by very low expectations for Thomas among Colts fans.
"It's just more mental than anything," Thomas said, per Colts.com's Kevin Bowen. "That's the hardest part. You feel so good coming back and then it's just an all-time low. You really don't believe it at first. Why is this happening to me? Some of those things you can't answer yourself. You just hope and pray that you can get back right. I know I have a lot of football left in me. I'm not going to stop just because I had two injuries like that. It's not in my character."
This morning, we continued our series looking at Colts' positions of need this offseason by looking at the offensive line, and what I wrote was that the right guard spot is really the one I expect the Colts to look at upgrading this year. I think that Anthony Castonzo and Jack Mewhort are sure to be starters (likely at left tackle and left guard), and I think the Colts like Khaled Holmes enough to bring him back as the starting center. I also expect the Colts to give Gosder Cherilus one more year at right tackle. That was my thinking when I said to look at the right guard position. One name I failed to mention in that article was Donald Thomas, and several have brought that up. So I wrote this to share some thoughts on Thomas.
Simply put, I'm not expecting much from Thomas in 2015. He was a good lineman before he was injured, but he's now two torn quads and nearly two full seasons removed from playing in an NFL game. Can he reach that level that he was at before? Can he stay healthy? These are questions that we don't really know the answer to yet. What we do know is that Thomas is recovering and rehabbing from his injury in hopes of stepping back into the mix in 2015 for the Colts' offensive line.
I don't think he's a guy that the Colts should count on as being healthy. It's kind of a similar situation to running back Vick Ballard, who also is coming off of two season-ending injuries in a row - it'd be absolutely awesome if those guys can reach the level they were playing at before the injuries and stay healthy this year, as that would be a big boost to the Colts' offense. But it's dangerous to count on them too much. If the Colts don't add other players along the offensive line, for example, and are counting solely on Donald Thomas coming back and stepping in to start, that's not a good plan.
The best plan for the Colts is to get someone who is assumed to be the starter at right guard this offseason, whether in the draft or free agency. They need to get a good player, and then in training camp hope that Donald Thomas plays well enough to both earn a spot on the roster and perhaps make a push for a starting spot. That would be awesome, but I wouldn't expect it with the lineman coming off of two straight injuries. Or, perhaps more accurately, I wouldn't count on it.