Julius Thomas joins Dolphins as ‘much better person’
Whether Dolphins tight end Julius Thomas arrived in Miami a better player or not remains to be seen. But he knows he’s coming to his new team as a better person.
“I became a much, much better person in the last two years,” Thomas said, via ESPN.com. “Having some struggles on the field really helped me grow mentally and in my own personal life. So I’m not upset by the way things happened. Sometimes the best way to learn is when you go through things. I definitely took advantage of that in my own life.”
He dug a little deeper: “I think sometimes you get the impression that your success on the field defines who you are as a person and how well you’re living your life, and that’s really not the case. As you get older you start to realize that. When you’re 25 or 26, have amazing stats and you’re playing in a Super Bowl, it’s really easy to just be focused on just your game and not the kind of person you’re being and relationships with your friends and family.”
Thomas went on to spout some of the well-worn clichés common with May preseason football — he’s in the best shape, the best years are still ahead of him — but the cathartic discussion of his personal life separated an otherwise banal organized team activities interview from the pack.
We’ve seen players go through the ‘humbling’ process before. Thomas arrived in Jacksonville as a high-priced, top-tier free agent target, only to catch a handful of footballs over the next two years. He was traded to the Dolphins only because his tireless effort as a young player under Peyton Manning with the Broncos made an impression on the current Dolphins coaching staff, which had connections to Thomas in Denver and with Manning.
The Dolphins picked up James’ fifth-year contract option Monday. James, 24, started all 16 games at right tackle last season. He was picked 19th overall back in 2014 out of Tennessee.
James had a solid season last year, perhaps aided by the steadily rising talent around him. But the Dolphins also trusted him significantly, and were rewarded with the rise of Pro Bowl running back Jay Ajayi. According to NFL Research, the Dolphins ranked second in the league in running plays off the outside hip of the right tackle, meaning it was quite a busy year for the veteran. The average gain on those plays? An average of 4.96 yards per carry. It was nearly double the amount of plays Miami ran off the left tackle.
The move signals what should be a wave of last-minute option pickups over the course of the next 48 hours. Some high 2014 picks like Sammy Watkins, Blake Bortles, Anthony Barr and Eric Ebron have yet to hear a definitive word about their future.
“[Manning] talked a lot about [Thomas asking], ‘Would you stay out and help me with this? Take me through this,'” Christensen told the paper. “Would you watch a little tape with me? Would you explain what you want on this?’ And he still does the same thing. I’ll see him in coach [Adam] Gase’s office and his questions are right. His questions and his process are right, which as a coach, (is what) you’re looking for.”
Thomas thrived while attached to Manning’s hip in Denver and, not surprisingly, bottomed out in Jacksonville along with Blake Bortles. Thomas played in only 21 of 32 possible starts, catching 76 passes for 736 yards and nine touchdowns.
Gase and Christensen could be his career lifeline in Miami, while solving their own problem with free-agent tight ends over the years. The benefits would be mutual, allowing the Dolphins to tear open the middle of the field and provide some more flexibility for budding star running back Jay Ajayi.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill, still rebuilding himself in the mold of Gase, could always use a solid intermediate target.
Thomas provides a good lesson for NFL receivers and tight ends coming up now. Attaching yourself to a quarterback is never a bad idea, especially if he’s a legend in the making.