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Georgia’s Andrew Thomas finds the right beat when it comes to his NFL pursuits

Georgia offensive tackle Andrew Thomas runs the cone drill at the NFL scouting combine.
Offensive tackle Andrew Thomas loves playing music but realized he had better let football punch his ticket.
(Joe Robbins / Getty Images)

The Times examines the top prospects ahead of the NFL draft, to be held April 23-25.

Andrew Thomas’ high school football coach saw a fabulous hunk of clay in his freshman offensive tackle. Chris Slade of Atlanta’s Pace Academy also noticed that he was having trouble putting his imprint on the young player, who simply seemed distracted by other pursuits.

Thomas had grown up playing the drums in his church band, just like his father, Andre. And once Thomas got to Pace, he naturally joined the school’s drum line.

“I’d be at the pep rally, and I’d be playing in the band with my jersey on and then I’d go over to the football team and do the football things,” Thomas recalled.

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At football practice, Thomas was just as likely to be mimicking drum beats with his hands as using them to shift an opposing defensive lineman.

Slade, an All-American linebacker at Virginia who played in the NFL for nine seasons, eventually spoke up and shook some sense into the kid.

“Chris Slade told me I had a chance to write my own ticket playing football,” Thomas said. “And I loved the game, but music was still very important to me.”

The Times examines the top prospects ahead of the 2020 NFL draft, to be held April 23-25.

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Thomas decided he had better let football punch his ticket. He continued with the band but paid it less mind and became a five-star recruit, committing to the Georgia Bulldogs. Like with music, the game came easily to him. He was the rare offensive lineman to start in the Southeastern Conference on day one and emerged into a first-team All-American his junior season in 2019.

In the midst of all that growth on the field, Thomas gave up the drums — it was not going to be possible to play football and be in the band on fall Saturdays — but picked up the piano.

NFL.com‘s analysis of Thomas describes him as having “meat hooks for hands,” but somehow that hasn’t stopped his ascent on the ivories.

“If I had to rate myself right now from 1 to 10, I’d say I’m around a 5,” Thomas said of his piano playing. “I’m still working on it, but it’s something that I really enjoy.”

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At the NFL scouting combine, Thomas brought up his piano skills with teams during interviews.

“Every time I say that, they get interested,” he said. “So I think that’s a good thing outside of football that I do.”

With his blend of strength, athleticism and technique, Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs is expected to be one of the first two offensive linemen picked in the NFL draft.

Perhaps his ability to learn an instrument as delicate as the piano indicates a willingness to be detailed about his craft as an offensive lineman.

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For Thomas, the physical gifts are all there, but “occasional leaning, lunging and inconsistent knee bend in pass protection could be isolated and attacked by pass-rush wolves looking to feast if he doesn’t get those areas cleaned up,” NFL.com writes.

Thomas showed at Georgia that he can smoothly transition to a new level quickly.

“Technique is very important,” Thomas said. “One little hiccup in your set or with your hands against these very talented rushers will make all the difference. Playing against those guys, you have to be a technician. Every down, every play, you have to change it up. It’s almost like a chess match.”


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