'I belong here': Cleveland Browns rookie defensive end Isaiah Thomas flashes his potential
Thomas’ girlfriend, Kelbi, is due to deliver their daughter, Aubri, in about 10 days. Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said the seventh-round pick from the University of Oklahoma will be excused to fly to Tulsa for her birth.
“I have a daughter on the way ... that was the main thing I was focusing on and one of the big reasons I do this,” Thomas said Sunday. “To prove myself ... to do it for my family back home. I’ve got something to prove and I’ll go out there every play with that mentality before I take that next snap.”
Thomas acknowledged that part of his heart is in Tulsa right now. But the Browns have an important week ahead with joint practices with the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday and Friday before Sunday afternoon’s game at FirstEnergy Stadium.
“Yeah, it’s kind of hard being away from them, but I know it’s for the greater good of my future and for their future,” Thomas said. “So I’m so optimistic on things, looking at the bright side of the picture.”
Thomas was largely overshadowed as the Browns draft class of 2022 made an impressive debut in the 24-13 victory over the Jaguars.
Cornerback Martin Emerson returned an interception 74 yards for a touchdown, winning an unrevealed bet with Denzel Ward. Running back Jerome Ford totaled 102 yards rushing and receiving and scored twice. Kicker Cade York was perfect, making a 31-yard field goal.
Thomas was a big part of that with three tackles for losses and a team-high two sacks.
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“Really it just came down to me believing in my abilities,” Thomas said of his performance. “Just went back to my college days of being out there on the big stage and believing in myself and telling myself that I belong here.
“I’m here for a reason, and coach just kept telling me to emphasize the things we’ve been practicing as far as my pass-rush skills and as far as reading. Those big plays ... it really just came down to the details that led to those.”
Stefanski said Thomas’ character and work ethic stood out during the Browns’ pre-draft research, with the coach calling him a “really good kid” and “a program guy.”
“Really good size, so he’s got big end potential for us,” Stefanski said. “A few sacks the other night, showing his technique, showing his energy, his relentless pursuit, those type of things.”
“It’s really surreal. Those guys are exactly what I expected them to be on and off the field,” Thomas said. “They’re not the guys who ... portray something that they’re not.
“If you know me, I love Myles, I love Jadeveon and have been keeping up with them since their college days, so it’s been great.”
Thomas, 6-foot-5 and 266 pounds, was named after the Hall of Fame basketball player Isiah Thomas. The Detroit Pistons star was his father’s favorite player and his mother loved the name because of what it represents in the Bible.
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His dad wanted Thomas to be a basketball player, and Thomas said he won two state championships at Memorial High School in Tulsa. But there was never any debate over which sport Thomas would play.
“I knew football was the sport for me because graduating high school I was 6-5, the same height I am now,” Thomas said. “And I played the post. I'm not going to play the post in the NBA. I'd be guarding [Atlanta Hawks guard] Trae Young out there.
“It [turned] out to be everything I wanted it to be.”
Thomas said he’s a better player now than when he arrived for rookie minicamp in May. He’s improved by focusing on the words of defensive line coach Chris Kiffin, who tells him not to do too much.
“If you see the plays that I made, they weren't like 'Wow' plays. On the stat sheet it may look nice, but they were just simple things,” Thomas said. “I didn't do too much thinking. Coach says, ‘You see a lot, you see nothing.’ I focus on the details more rather than think too much or do too much out there.”
During the television broadcast, Browns preseason analyst Joe Thomas, the Hall of Fame-bound left tackle, praised Thomas for his hand usage on his two sacks.
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“That's really what I start my game with,” Thomas said. “A lot of D-line coaches, they'll preach on starting off with power. I love using my arms, I love to use my length and strength at my position.
“I speak to all the D-linemen out there ... how important it is to use your hands and not just try to throw a hand movement. When I say use my hands, I mean like power. Getting back there, showing that power, then go to finesse. But coach always says if something's not broke don't fix it. So I came with power the majority of the whole game.”
Thomas believes his Browns debut will help him make the 53-man roster. He also has former Oklahoma teammate Perrion Winfrey, a defensive tackle selected in the fourth round, cheering him on.
“I think it helped me out a lot," Thomas said of his performance Friday. "I always strive to be 1% better every day. I think that game I put my best foot forward.
“It wasn't perfect, but it was enough, in my opinion, to show these coaches that I belong here, that I [gave] a glimpse of what my future could possibly be as a Cleveland Brown.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.