WR Mike Thomas was one of several rookies that made an instant impact on the Jaguars last season. After being drafted in the fourth round out of the University of Arizona, the 5-8, 198-pound Thomas set the Jaguars' franchise record for receptions by a rookie with 48. He totaled 453 yards and scored one touchdown. He also quickly became a favorite third-down target for QB David Garrard.
In addition to his contributions as a receiver, Thomas added a dangerous element to the return game and on gadget running plays.
Following the departure of veteran Torry Holt, Thomas is one of the leading candidates to earn a starting WR job this season.
PFW recently caught up with Thomas to discuss a variety of topics, including his maturation entering his second pro season, the ongoing position battle for a starting job, the loss of Torry Holt and a possible career after football.
PFW: How is the offseason treating you?
MT: Offseason is going pretty good, man, can't complain.
PFW: Cool. Did you get a chance to get away from football a bit after the season ended?
MT: Actually I went out to Hawaii, went out to Maui for a little bit and chilled. Relax a little bit.
PFW: Was that your first time out there?
MT: I've been out there before with some of my college teammates. This time I went to Maui with my girl, so we had a chance to kick it and relax a little bit.
PFW: How is your body feeling? I know there was a bit of a hamstring issue during OTAs, how is that doing?
MT: The body is doing well. The hamstring injury, this is my second one, so I need to do a little more to stay out of the training room. Just little things like massages and stretching, things like that. But, overall, pretty good. Just trying to work on conditioning and getting stronger.
PFW: How would you assess your performance as a rookie?
MT: It was pretty good. Average, I guess I would say. For me it was average, but for others from the outside looking in they would say it was good. I think I did some things well, but there are a lot of things I can get better at. I just know I have a lot more in me, a lot more to give to the team. It was a productive year, but I'm nowhere near being where I want to be as a professional football player.
PFW: What was the most challenging part of being a rookie?
MT: The little details, coverages and what not. As a rookie, you have so many little things to think about when you're out there on the field, it makes it difficult to just go out there and play ball. So, yeah, I would just say paying attention to the little details and learning the playbook.
PFW: How much further along are you now a year later?
MT: Light-years. You can even see it in practice in some of the things that we do. Of course, there is always work to be done, but I'm just playing with so much more confidence. Being able to play full speed because I have a better idea where I'm supposed to be. The repetition is obviously great, and I just hope to keep getting better.
PFW: Any star-struck moments during your rookie season? The first time you met a certain player, or the first time you stepped onto a field?
MT: Not really, but I remember specifically when we played Buffalo, seeing how big T.O. was. Just knowing the kind of athlete he is at that size, I was, like, "oh, man!" I guess that was the only moment. I'm not big on stuff like that. A lot of the guys are pretty cool and down to earth, which makes it easy to talk to them, so it's never been a big deal.
PFW: Compare this year's OTAs to last year — was the intensity noticeably higher this offseason?
MT: No question, the intensity of what we're doing, the competition level, it's definitely different from the way it was my first year.
PFW: What were your thoughts upon hearing the NFL was taking away the final two practices?
MT: It was good because it gave our bodies a chance to recover, but obviously, we always want to be out there getting the work in. It was both positive and negative.
PFW: Can you feel a different mood in the locker room this year? Are guys hungrier?
MT: Yeah, I think the biggest thing is just the sense of competition. I mean; you have everybody that wants to play a major role, which raises the stakes that much more.
PFW: How is the position battle at wide receiver shaping up so far?
MT: I think we're all in the mix right now. Obviously, at first, it was Mike [Sims-Walker] and I, and then my hamstring injury happened, and T-roy [Troy Williamson] filled in. Mike is our slated No. 1, and I feel like the rest is up for grabs, so we're going to see how that turns out.
PFW: Are you buddies with Troy [Williamson] and Jarett [Dillard], and how competitive has the offseason been between you guys?
MT: No doubt. We were actually talking about that the other day; our whole group has grown a lot. I think we all understand that we're going to go out there and compete as hard as we can, and the chips are going to fall where they're going to fall. We're just going to leave it all out there and no hard feelings in the end. All of us want for the best two people to play, and obviously, in order to do that, we have to beat each other for the job. We have a great time together, though; we take trips and hang out a lot, so the relationships are really good.
PFW: What is the biggest obstacle lining up outside vs. in the slot?
MT: I think just understanding and knowing my strengths and weaknesses. Not getting stuck in positions that will hinder me, or more or less expose my weakness, which is my height. But you look at people like Wes Welker and Steve Smith, and they get on the outside and get things done. I definitely know I can play outside, especially in one-on-one coverage. I know what I'm capable of. For me, it's all about getting the reps in and making the most of my opportunities.
PFW: Being a punt returner takes a very special type of courage — what is going through your head when the ball's in the air?
MT: After the kick, it's all about catching it. You know, judging the ball in the wind, just making sure I have it secure, that's the most important part. Once I catch the ball, I just love having that ball in my hands. It's kind of like a video game, just trying to make things happen, trying to make defenders look like fools. That's the kind of zone I go into.
PFW: Are the return jobs open for competition, or they asking you to focus on receiver, letting the two rookies they drafted [RB Deji Karim and CB Scotty McGee] focus on returns?
MT: You know, I couldn't even tell you.
PFW: Have you been taking reps at returning kicks?
MT: Yes, and I definitely love doing it. I guess the role they envision for me is not doing it quite as much, though, they want me back there sometimes and I want to be back there. It's more bullets in my chamber, so why not keep doing it?
PFW: How much are you going to miss having Torry Holt around?
MT: Not having Torry is going to be huge. I talked to him about a week ago, so we still stay in touch, but just having him around, to do the extra little things when you don't want to. For example, after practice, just going and getting a good stretch in, those are the things that you see him do as a professional, as a true veteran. Not having that around, I guess to see that to further motivate us, to know that we have to do those things to become the players we want to be, we will miss. Torry is a great dude. Being able to watch him practice and see the way he goes about his job, it's definitely a process we try and replicate.
PFW: Who do you see stepping up among the receivers to assume the vocal leadership role this season?
MT: Mike [Sims-Walker] has done a good job stepping up to that role. Jarett Dillard, I think, definitely has some leadership capabilities. I have some leadership capabilities. We have a group of different personalities and we all lead in our own ways.
PFW: Maurice Jones-Drew filled in for Peter King with the Monday Morning Quarterback column this week. MJD said, "I think this whole notion that small-market teams can't succeed in the NFL is ridiculous. The NFL is a global brand. Let's think outside of the box, Jags fans, and take over the world. I'm tired of everyone doubting us." What are your thoughts on that statement? Do you agree that Jaguars fans should be coming out in numbers?
MT: That's deep. I think he hit it right on the head. If people want us around, then that's what they're going to have to do. If not, the market will do what it's going to do, and people will have to do what they have to do from a business standpoint.
PFW: Is it frustrating for you to see all the empty seats, and do you use it as motivation?
MT: It's real frustrating. Your fan base, especially the ones showing up on Sundays, that's key. We need that home-field advantage, which will just make everything that much better.
PFW: Who was your favorite player growing up?
MT: Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin. They were so close to home, so I have to pick a few Cowboys.
PFW: I've been reading your Facebook page a bit, and noticed a lot of NBA playoffs discussion. Is basketball your second favorite sport?
MT: Yeah, I would say so.
PFW: Where is LeBron James headed?
MT: I would say if he doesn't head to Chicago, he'll stay right there in Cleveland.
PFW: Well, I'm from Chicago, so I definitely like that answer!
MT: Him and Derrick [Rose] would definitely make quite the duo.
PFW: What are your thoughts on the Pac-10 Conference's recent expansion?
MT: With Utah and Colorado joining, I think it's good for everyone. More teams, more games, more exposure, I guess. Maybe get a little more respect.
PFW: Is Wildcat basketball ready for a return to greatness this year?
MT: Oh, man, I don't even know who they recruited. They had a rough one last year, but it will be good to see them bounce back.
PFW: Are you following the World Cup? What do you think about the ridiculous horns?
MT: I think the horns are very ridiculous. This is my first time getting into soccer; it's pretty neat seeing what good athletes those guys are.
PFW: So you don't want to see the vuvuzelas at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium this season?
MT: No. Definitely not.
PFW: Tell me a bit about high school football in Texas?
MT: Oh, man, it's the best. Florida and California think they can compare with us, but it's not close.
PFW: You have lived in Louisiana, Texas, Arizona and Florida. How is it playing in cold weather?
MT: It is what it is, you just have to gear up and prepare yourself. Cleveland last year was by far the coldest game I've ever played in.
PFW: Last question for you: I'm told you have an interest in broadcasting once your playing days are over. Tell me a bit about that.
MT: Yeah, I think I could make a funny and productive commentator. Something I will have to grow into, probably take some classes, but I think it would be a lot of fun.
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