For tight end Julius Thomas, last Sunday began with the awkwardness of remaining in the locker-room during pre-game after the team informed players that they must stand for the national anthem if they’re on the field.
It continued with the awkwardness of not being on the field for the first offensive snap for the first time as a Dolphin.
But Thomas made clear this week that he can deal with both.
First, he shrugged off any ego blow about losing his starting job to Anthony Fasano, at least for one week, against Tennessee.
“You’ve got to be mentally tougher than that,” Thomas said. “If it’s about my ego or how I look, I’m going to have a long, tough life. If I’m going to be worried about being out there for the first snap, all kinds of things in life are going to trip me up.”
Coach Adam Gase, asked if Fasano is now the starting tight end, said: “It’s whatever personnel grouping I call. Everything is week to week.”
Fasano, who played less than he’s accustomed to in the first three games, logged 44 snaps on Sunday, compared with 36 for Thomas and 18 for MarQueis Gray.
Offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen, asked about that lineup change, mentioned coaches wanted to change things up — and become less predictable — after self-scouting their tendencies.
“Fasano has his set of traits that are unique and different from Julius [and vice versa],” he said. “Sometimes just mix it up. Coach isn’t afraid to change it up to see if he can find extra energy or a winning combination. Sometimes when things are flat, you have to go to the bullpen.”
Christensen also said that Gase “wanted to get more people in because of physical tiredness and weariness.”
But Thomas’ performance also assuredly was a factor. Thomas has only nine catches for 86 yards and no touchdowns in four games, and Pro Football Focus rates his run blocking this season 65th among 69 tight ends.
Gase said one reason Thomas hasn’t been more involved in the passing game is because the team hasn’t gotten favorable matchups.
“His value comes when he is matched up on safeties and linebackers,” Gase said. “When you put a corner on him, it’s not as easy for him to get as open as what he’s done in the past. If you get a safety or a linebacker on him, it’s a good matchup for him. He’s got a good skill set that makes it tough on them. We haven’t really seen a lot of man. We have a lot of guys that can win one-on-one coverage and we’re seeing a lot of zone. He can body up a corner every once in a while, but that’s not always a route you’re running with him.”
Asked if he’s frustrated, Thomas said: “The frustration is something I can’t allow. All I can do is try to take advantage of the opportunities I get and do my part in winning that one-on-one matchup.”
How can the Dolphins get Thomas more involved?
“Got to get in the red zone more,” quarterback Jay Cutler said. “That would be the first step. We haven’t been able to showcase him.”
Thomas had 24 touchdowns in 28 games in Denver with Gase as his offensive coordinator and Payton Manning as his quarterback. But his signature red zone moment in his first four games as a Dolphin was failing to turn around for a pass that was intercepted.
As for the anthem, Thomas had been kneeling since President Donald Trump used a derogatory term to describe people who do so.
Asked if he had any objection to the team’s new policy prohibited players on the field from kneeling, he said: “No. Upstairs are their decisions. I plan to continue protesting in the ways that I can. Our team understands that. I’ll just do what I have to do and focus on football, as well as finding different ways to create conversations and hopefully solutions to end some of the inequalities in our country.”
Thomas declined to discuss his conversation with Gase about the subject. But he made clear he was kneeling to draw attention to social issues.
“We can’t pretend we have the answers,” Thomas said. “But we have big hearts and want to continue to do what we can to make this country a better place.”
Thomas, Kenny Stills and Michael Thomas were the only Dolphins who stayed in the locker-room during the anthem on Sunday.
Asked if he will remain in the locker-room moving forward, Stills said: “I guess that’s what the team has asked us to do, and so that’s our plan.”