EVEN WITH a full class load in real estate and urban land economics, the No. 3 overall pick seemed to have more free time at Wisconsin than he has now. On an average weekday Thomas leaves home at 6:30 a.m. and returns 12 hours later, physically and mentally spent from four hours of meetings, two hours of practice, and DVD after DVD of opposing right ends and outside linebackers. If you're a preparation freak like Thomas, it's all necessary. "In college, basically you're facing a 4-3 front every week, without a lot of variation," Thomas said last week. "In the NFL, defensive coaches are scheming week to week and doing different stuff than you'd expect. Against Baltimore [in Week 4], you have no idea where their linebackers are going to be on any play. They'll play two defensive linemen and five linebackers—on any play."
The Ravens were an eye-opener for Thomas. They often use an unbalanced line, bunching four linebackers over the right tackle; Thomas would have to move from left tackle to the other side and become a second right tackle. "Baltimore showed me what a chess game between coordinators the NFL is," said Thomas, "and we're the pieces."
The Browns' line has long been its weakest link, but that's changing. Cleveland allowed one sack of new quarterback Derek Anderson in Weeks 2 through 4 before the Patriots got to him three times in their 34--17 win on Sunday. "The best feeling for me was after we beat Baltimore," said Thomas. "Derek said to me, 'Hey, I feel great. I didn't get hit all game.' That's what a left tackle loves to hear."
DAMIAN STROHMEYER (THOMAS)