Is one run, no matter how impressive, enough to erase three years of film?
Daniel Thomas better hope so.
Because for that one impressive play, Thomas looked like he was running for his NFL life. And he very well may have been.
Thursday night was make or break for the fourth-year back. As in, could he break tackles? Could he move the pile?
For much of the Dolphins’14-13 preseason-ending win against the Rams, Thomas was frustrated and contained. And then it happened.
Fourth-and-about a foot from the St. Louis 5. The call: an inside give to Thomas, a former second-round pick who, if he is to make the team, it’s to get this type of tough yard.
He got it – and four more. After video replay, officials signaled touchdown. Would it be Thomas’ last in a Dolphins uniform? At the very least, it was his last carry of the night.
Was it enough?
“I don’t know,” Thomas said. “We’ll have to see. It’s up to the coaches. I gave it everything I had. ... Just gotta wait and see.”
The Dolphins shut Thomas down after that, giving him a slightly improved – but still pedestrian – stat line: 13 carries, 38 yards, and a 2.9 yards-per-rush average.
And due to a hamstring injury that lasted the better part of a month, his final preseason stats are the same.
And so the question: Did Thomas watch Damien Williams race past him for good this exhibition season?
“They’re all important,” coach Joe Philbin said, when asked of the night’s importance for Thomas. “We haven’t had a chance to see him compete a whole lot, relative to the other guys at his position this preseason. I think it’s an important evaluation for us.”
Likewise, did Marcus Thigpen kick away his last best chance to make this football team?
And did Caleb Sturgis’ place on the roster sail wide left, like his 53-yard field goal attempt in the second half?
Only a few people know the answer for sure – Philbin and general manager Dennis Hickey, among others. But Thigpen, Thomas and Sturgis will be clued in by 4 p.m. Saturday. That’s when the final round of cuts are due, and more than a few bubbles will burst.
For Thomas, it was his first (and only) live action since December. For Thigpen, it was one final chance to get back into form. And for Sturgis, it was a last-gasp attempt to convince the Dolphins they didn’t need to sign a veteran kicker.
All had an opportunity. None really seized it.
Thigpen, who will be the team’s returner should he make the cut, not only muffed a punt, he then booted it in the wrong direction before ultimately recovering it. Thigpen later admitted he took his eye off the ball, and needed better focus.
But like Thomas, Thigpen finished better than he started. In the fourth quarter, he had a return of 32 yards – showing speed that just a handful of players on the team possess.
“I really don’t know what’s enough,” Thigpen said of his place on the roster. “I just go out there and do what I can do to the best of my ability. The rest is up to [the coaches].”
He added: “It’s definitely going to be nervous.”
Want to know who did make a strong closing argument to make his team?
Rams defensive end Michael Sam, who’s vying to become the first openly gay player to make a regular-season roster. Sam led all Rams players with six tackles, playing major minutes.
Matt Hazel, the Dolphins’ rookie receiver, also finished strong. He had four catches for 79 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown reception from Seth Lobato. However, the Dolphins simply have too many good receivers as it is, and it would be surprising if he survives final cuts.
Winners and losers
Chris McCain: Only had three tackles but two were sacks, and he consistently filled holes against the run.
Garrison Smith: Came into the game with just one tackle and left with four more, including a sack and two tackles for loss.
Matt Hazel: A 22-yard touchdown highlighted his four-catch, 79-yard performance.
Seth Lobato: Did not do enough to make up for the interception that ended his first drive.
Dallas Thomas: Struggled at right guard but improved at right tackle. His versatility could still earn him a roster spot.
Orleans Darkwa: Did not get many opportunities but gained just 22 yards on 11 carries.