Revitalized Mike Thomas hopes to catch on with Rams receiving corps
The description included one word, repeated quickly three times.
“Tough, tough, tough,” Mike Thomas said.
The Rams receiver was reflecting on what it was like to sit out nearly the entire 2018 season because of a groin injury that required three surgeries.
Thomas, who turns 25 on Friday, appears fully recovered, and the special teams standout also could have a role in the Rams high-powered passing attack this season.
Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp are the starting receivers, and Josh Reynolds last season produced as a rotational player and starter. The speedy Thomas, a fourth-year pro with only eight career receptions, might add depth and perhaps another dimension as the Rams attempt to return to the Super Bowl.
With coach Sean McVay holding starters out of preseason games, Thomas will get another opportunity Saturday to showcase his development when the Rams play the Dallas Cowboys at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu.
“I’m feeling 100% me out there,” said Thomas, who caught a 12-yard pass for a first down in last week’s preseason opener against the Oakland Raiders. “I’m just feeling good, running around, catching balls, doing my thing.”
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The Rams selected the 6-foot-1, 189-pound Thomas in the sixth round of the 2016 draft, but injuries and other issues have prevented him from fully demonstrating his skills.
Thomas played on special teams and caught three passes his rookie season under former coach Jeff Fisher’s staff. After McVay was hired in January 2017, Thomas appeared to raise his profile during offseason workouts, but he was suspended for the first four games of the 2017 season for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.
When Thomas returned, he once again asserted himself on special teams. He also caught five passes and appeared poised for a larger role in the receiving corps last season. But in the Sept. 10 opener against the Raiders, Thomas was injured on a special teams play. He underwent surgery a few days later. And again in December.
“Nothing seemed to get right,” Thomas said.
The Rams, meanwhile, overcame a season-ending knee injury suffered by Kupp, finished 13-3 and advanced to the Super Bowl against the New England Patriots.
“It was eating me up, honestly, just knowing I could have been out there making plays, doing whatever I can to help my team win games,” Thomas said.
Woods had groin surgery in 2015 when he played for the Buffalo Bills. So Thomas relied on him for advice and encouragement as he worked to get back. Cooks, Kupp and Reynolds also kept Thomas positive. And Thomas said Reggie Scott, the Rams’ senior director of sports medicine and performance, kept him focused throughout an ordeal that finally seemed to end with surgery in March.
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“That third time was the charm,” Thomas said.
Thomas was limited during offseason workouts but arrived at training camp last month in top shape. McVay said Thomas has “separated himself as one of those guys that stands out” in the competition for a spot in the receiver corps.
“It’s really never been an issue about talent,” McVay said. “He’s kind of had some unfortunate issues that have kept him out of the lineup due to injury. ... He’s a guy that we’re hoping can stay healthy because he can definitely help us at that receiver position.”
Quarterback Jared Goff has watched Thomas develop.
“He’s always been a guy, since my first year we came in together, that when healthy is a tremendous player and a guy that can help us,” Goff said. “It’s been great to see him finally get healthy and get his chance, and he looks great.”
Woods, Cooks, Kupp and Reynolds have established themselves as a reliable and sometimes spectacular quartet, but Thomas still senses opportunity.
“I just try to feed off those guys,” he said. “Whenever they’re tired or need a break, I’m ready to go in and make plays.”
In last week’s game against the Raiders — his first in nearly a year — Thomas said he felt great.
“It was good to get the jitters out,” he said. “I just can’t wait for the next one.”
Quarterback Jared Goff, running back Todd Gurley and nearly every other starter on offense and defense were not scheduled to travel to Hawaii. McVay, with an eye toward the Sept. 8 opener against the Carolina Panthers, apparently did not want to subject them to a nearly six-hour flight. “For the most part, the guys that will not be participating in that game, to have them make that travel, things of that nature, is in the best interest of those guys” to stay home, McVay said Thursday after practice. Defensive lineman Aaron Donald, who said he has business interests as part of the trip, was scheduled to travel, as was cornerback Marcus Peters. ... Running back Justin Davis, who suffered a concussion last week during a joint practice with the Raiders, practiced Thursday and will play Saturday, McVay said.
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