The Miami Dolphins struck unexpected gold last year when they plucked Michael Thomas off San Francisco’s practice squad.
Now, they’re hoping for a similar jackpot Sunday when they plug him into their revamped secondary.
The Miami Herald has learned that Thomas will have an expanded role when the Dolphins host the Kansas City Chiefs.
At the very least, Thomas will be the safety alongside Louis Delmas when Miami goes to its sub package on passing downs, moving Jimmy Wilson back to the nickel corner spot, where he excelled last year.
It is unclear which two safeties will work in the team’s base package, but if last week’s game is any indication, it will be a combination of all three – Thomas, Delmas and Wilson. Thomas and Wilson started, but Delmas played the vast majority of defensive snaps.
“I was surprised when they told me I was starting,” Thomas said Thursday. “You never know when your number's going to be called. It's that next-man-up mentality. I just want to take advantage of any opportunity I can get.”
Joe Philbin has had high praise for Thomas, a second-year player out of Stanford, since camp began. But most expected the hero of last December’s Patriots game to be predominately be a special-teams player in 2014.
“I like the way he tackles,” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said. “I think he’s a very good tackler. He’s very intense. He’s a competitor. He’s a guy that we’ve liked what he’s done really since the day he’s got here. We’ll see how it goes this week, [but] those are the things we like about him. The guy is a football player.”
The odd man out in the Dolphins’ new coverage plan is Will Davis, who has been uneven as the team’s No. 3 corner the first two weeks of the season.
The belief is the Dolphins want to see a number of different lineups in the four weeks that Reshad Jones is suspended for a failed drug test, so that when Jones returns in October, they can get the best group on the field.
Jones’ starting job is not believed to be in jeopardy, but the Dolphins will have to decide which safety to start alongside him.
Wilson skirted the issue Thursday when asked directly if he expected a move back to nickel, but did say that if he was asked to play both positions, he would be fine.
“I’ve played a high level last year in the slot,” Wilson said. “It wouldn’t really be any different. It’s something I’ve been doing for a couple of years now. I started there last year. It is what it is.”
Part of reason for the change might be that Wilson is the player Dolphins coaches trust the most to cover the slot receiver.
In 2013, quarterbacks targeted Wilson 61 times, according to Pro Football Focus, and he allowed 37 passes to be completed, surrendering just one touchdown all season.
Aside from a few snaps by Jamar Taylor against the Bills on Sunday, Davis has been the Dolphins’ nickel the first two weeks. In the Buffalo game, Davis allowed four of five passes thrown in his direction to be completed, with receivers gaining 14.8 yards per catch.
But the move might be more of a reflection of what Thomas has done right, not what Davis has done wrong. It’s a remarkable breakthrough for a player who has just nine career tackles. He went undrafted out of Stanford and spent parts of two seasons on San Francisco’s practice squad.
But when Thomas finally got his chance, he flashed. After injuries forced him into the lineup in the second Patriots game, Thomas intercepted Tom Brady late to preserve the Dolphins victory.
“Me and a couple of other DBs were just talking about how everybody’s situation was different,” Thomas said. “I was just bringing up how I can go from practice squad, in the sense of not even being in the picture of playing on someone’s team, to having a chance to start.”
Thomas added: “It’s crazy. It’s a blessing every single day.”