One of the keys to the offseason for the Colts was to improve the offensive line. Whilst the signing of Lions right tackle Gosder Cherilus provides an upgrade over Winston Justice, the interior of the line provided the most concern.
And whilst the media regularly linked the team with moves for Buffalo Bills guard Andy Levitre and Louis Vasquez of the Chargers, General Manager Ryan Grigson chose not to pursue the bigger names on the market and instead moved for New England Patriots guard Donald Thomas.
A 27-year old lineman formerly of the Miami Dolphins and Detroit Lions, Thomas started just 7 games for the Patriots in 2012, mostly serving as a backup to Logan Mankins. However, Thomas impressed during his limited playing time, and Pro Football Focus graded Thomas at +10.2 for the 2012 season, ranking him as the 4th best interior lineman available in free agency – above Vasquez.
The contract seems friendly too – 4 years at $14m is probably one of the more frugal moves the Colts made this week, particularly for someone who played well at both left and right guard.
From watching the footage of Patriots games, Thomas is a good pass protector, but also has the ability to drive linemen back to open up running lanes. It's these abilities that make him incredibly useful at both guard positions.
The first two plays are from the game against the Colts, with Thomas usually up against Fili Moala. The first play shown looks at his run blocking, and the particular play featured shows him at left guard.
Initially, Moala looks to have the leverage to stop Stevan Ridley from earning a huge gain, but Thomas regains his balance and manages to prevent Moala from making the stop, and Ridley gains 8 yards.
The next play has Thomas showing his pass protection skills, again against Fili Moala.
Moala was trying to get inside of Thomas and get after Tom Brady, as the Patriots came out in an empty backfield set.
Thomas shows great footwork to beat a shake by Moala, and seal off the threat, allowing Brady to complete to Wes Welker for another 8 yard gain.
However, Thomas does have some problems getting out of his stance at times, and this was evident in some of the games.
This is the first play of the game against the Jets – yes, the buttfumble game – and Thomas is lined up at left guard, facing Muhammad Wilkerson.
Thomas displays a high pad level which allows Wilkerson to get leverage and blow past him, forcing Brady into an intentional grounding call. This is indicative of some technical issues that Thomas has, but the good plays tend to outweigh the bad.
Given the atrocious play of Mike McGlynn, Jeff Linkenbach and Joe Reitz last season, Thomas will come in and provide a huge upgrade to the offensive line, something the Colts had to improve, given that they face J.J. Watt twice a year. His all around game makes me believe that the Colts have a solid player on their hands, and in a position of dire need.