DAVIE, Fla. — Daniel Thomas was back in familiar territory this week. Just 16 days after he was part of the final round of cuts the Miami Dolphins made at the conclusion of preseason, he was re-signed after working out for various teams, including the New England Patriots.
Now the former second-round pick has moved his personal belongings into the first locker near the entrance to the practice field and is hard at work catching up with the time he missed.
After Wednesday’s practice, Thomas wore a teal-colored Dolphins hat and looked comfortable and relaxed while joking with fellow running back Damien Williams. It wasn’t too long ago that he was busy looking for a job in the NFL after injuries in the preseason pushed him further and further back in the depth chart until he was the odd man out of a crowded running back corps.
"I was definitely hurt when it happened," Thomas said about getting cut. "But I figured I would get picked right back up and then it didn’t happen so I kind of got down, just started working out. Then I got the call this past weekend."
Knowshon Moreno’s elbow injury had crippled the Dolphins’ running game in one play, and it wasn’t long before Thomas’ agent called to let him know he had an offer to return. For Thomas, it was a no-brainer.
"You never know in this league, but I knew I would get a call," Thomas said. "I just didn’t know if it would be like in Week 3 or Week 8. It’s just a process.
"It just makes you appreciate the game even more. Just being away from the game and not being on the team. I haven’t had that feeling since like seventh grade or so. I’m just ready to go out there and play. My legs feel good and everything, so I’m ready."
During his first three seasons with the Dolphins, Thomas averaged 3.6 yards per carry. He understands he has big shoes to fill alongside Lamar Miller, who started the first two games of the season though Moreno received the bulk of the snaps. With untested rookies in Williams and Orleans Darkwa as the only other healthy options, the Dolphins must get plenty of production from Thomas to help carry the load while Moreno recuperates.
"It’s good to have Daniel Thomas back," head coach Joe Philbin said. "He’s been a valuable member of the club for the last couple of years and he looks to be in good shape.
"Obviously, he knows the system well. He’s a guy that’s had production at various points in time in the two years that I’ve been here. He should be able to get caught up. It looks like he’s in very good physical condition. He kept himself in good shape. Let’s see how many opportunities he gets on Sunday, but it’s good to have him back."
In a quiet moment of reflection after the rest of the reporters had left his locker room area, Thomas expressed some frustration that he didn’t get a fair chance during training camp to showcase his skills because of a hamstring injury. He was only able to play in the last preseason game against the St. Louis Rams but wasn’t happy with his performance.
"I don’t think it was that good," Thomas said. "Obviously, that was my first game and I wanted to play in the whole preseason so I could get in a rhythm. I really didn’t get the full preseason and those opportunities I needed to show them what I can do. The injuries set me back obviously and then I got released and everything. I’m healthy now and more hungry then I’ve ever been to stay on the team."
His coach echoed the same thoughts as to why Thomas didn’t initially make the final roster.
"Well, part of the reason was that he had some injuries during training camp and he didn’t have a lot of opportunities," Philbin said. "Some other guys we felt had stepped up. I don’t know that it was as much what he didn’t do as sometimes, he just couldn’t do it. He missed a bunch of time."
Whatever the cause was, Thomas is excited for his second chance with the only NFL team he’s played for. With each practice and with each game, he can prove his case to the coaches that he truly belongs on this team. Thomas understands this golden opportunity to replace Moreno must be maximized.
"Hopefully I can just build off of what he’s done and give the team some kind of spark to help them out anyway I can," he said. "Whether it’s a goal-line situation or whatever it might be just to be able to help."