Not many people knew who defensive back Michael Thomas was going into Sunday’s game against the New England Patriots. But that all changed with a late game interception of one the NFL’s best quarterbacks, creating a media whirlwind around the man who joined Miami just over a week ago from San Francisco’s practice squad.
Sitting down for an interview with the Finsiders, Thomas told the story of how he arrived in Miami, and how he was probably just an extra 30 minutes of sleep away from not being a member of the Dolphins.
“I woke around 10:20 AM West Coast time to about four missed calls from my agent, and a bunch of texts from her and my fiancé and they were just like wake up! A team is trying to claim you right now’,” said Thomas.
“So I immediately called my agent asking what was going on. She said ‘the Miami Dolphins want to claim you but if you don’t tell me what to tell them in the next 30 minutes, they’re going to move on to the next guy’. So I actually almost missed my opportunity if I would’ve slept for another 30 minutes.”
It wasn’t easy for Thomas to leave San Francisco, the team that signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2012. He wasn’t just leaving the team that had given him his first shot on an NFL practice squad. He was leaving the coach that he played for in college at Stanford in Jim Harbaugh.
“To have to call Jim Harbaugh and (49ers GM) Trent Baalke and tell them ‘you know guys, I appreciate everything you’ve done for me but I got to take this opportunity and leave to go to Miami,’ it was tough. They didn’t want me to go,” said Thomas.
The 49ers did appear to want to keep Thomas, reportedly bumping up his practice squad salary almost $3,000 a week a month ago to try to keep him from leaving for another team. But the chance to play for the Dolphins was just something the Stanford product couldn’t pass up.
“They seemed to have had a plan for me, but it was further in the future, it wasn’t immediate. With everything that presented itself at the time, I thought it was best for me and my family if I came to Miami.”
Thomas was brought in for defensive back depth, as corners R.J. Stanford and Dimitri Patterson were placed on the Reserved/Injured list last week. But little did he know he’d be playing such a major part on defense in such a crucial game. When asked about the number defensive practice reps he received during the week leading up to Sunday, his response was simple.
“Absolutely zero,” said Thomas.
Thomas was just expecting to appear on special teams, but the coaching staff warned him that if injuries befell the starters in the Dolphins secondary, he may have to enter the game completely bereft of any on-field experience in the Dolphins defense.
“Blue Adams the assistant DB coach was hinting at me all week like ‘okay if guys get banged up, you might actually have to go in’. He did a great job all week of preparing me in case that happened, and when that situation arose, I felt prepared because of Blue Adams.”
Along with Adams, Thomas credited defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle and defensive backs coach Lou Anarumo for getting him ready for his first NFL game. There were however some terminology and communication issues initially, because Thomas hadn’t been around long enough to learn the entire playbook. To combat this, Thomas relied on Miami’s starting safeties to fill him in before each play.
“I’ve got to give a lot of credit to Reshad Jones and (Chris) Clemons,” said Thomas. “Those guys really communicated with me. Honestly, if it wasn’t for them talking to me before the play every play, I wouldn’t have been able to be in that position to make that play at the end.”
Thrown into the fire late in the 4th quarter on defense, Thomas made two clutch plays on the final series of the game. The first was his pass breakup of a throw intended for Danny Amendola, and he explained that he actually drew from experience in college to make a play on New England’s elusive wideout.
“Once I saw the angle of the ball in the air, I realized I couldn’t go for the pick, and so I used a technique that my DB coach in college taught me,” said Thomas.
“It was called play the pocket. When you realize you can’t catch the interception, you just wait for the receiver to put his hands up, and just try to throw your hands through both of his hands and knock the ball out all the way to the ground.”
The second of course was the game sealing interception, and it was an moment that Thomas will never forget.
“Once my guy went in Clemons took him, I snuck back, and Will’s (Davis) guy came inside. As soon as I saw Brady throw it, I just went up and made the play,” said Thomas.
“It was just a great experience. That’s just something that the whole team, the whole defense, will all be able to remember.”
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