This is the third article in our four part series previewing how the four Mountaineers drafted in last month's NFL Draft fit in with their teams. Last week we told you how Brandon Hogan and Robert Sands fits in with the Bengals and the Panthers respectively using quotes and blurbs from the local media in and around the cities of Charlotte and Cincinnati. In this preview of J.T. Thomas, I have a special guest from SB Nation's Windy City Gridiron, Lester Wiltfong, who answered a few of my questions about the Bears' selection of Thomas and how he'll fit in with the Bears.
Thomas was selected in the 6th Round, #195, by the Chicago Bears. The Bears currently only have two linebackers under contract in Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. I asked Mr. Wiltfong what the Bears organization thinks of Thomas, how he'll be used, what he needs to learn, and how he can get on the field right away.
After reading the answers to my questions, I think you'll be excited about the opportunity that Thomas has with the Bears as that organization seems to produce legendary linebackers. It seems that all four of the Mountaineers drafted will have a chance soon to be key contributors on their new team's defenses. It bodes well that the last five Mountaineers to be drafted were all on the defensive side of the ball. For a long time, WVU has been able to recruit offensive playmakers because of the regularity in which Morgantown produced NFL players. That appeals to these young high school players: the chance to be on national television and the chance at making the NFL. Under Jeff Casteel and his coaching staff, they are showing that they can do the same which could mean that it'll be easier to recruit high-level talent on that side of the ball. Many of the highest rated players in this year's recruiting class were on defense.
But I digress, let's talk Chicago Bears and J.T. Thomas with Lester Wiltfong.
1) Was Thomas on the Bears' radar before WVU's Pro-Day?
The Bears under GM Jerry Angelo have had a history of drafting "their" guys. Meaning they rarely, if ever, select a player that their regional scout hasn't done a ton of homework on and that they haven't had one on one time with. They almost always have a few under the radar players that they really covet. And with Thomas being a traditional 4-3 OLB I'm sure he was one of those guys.
2) What did Jerry Angelo, Lovie Smith, Rod Marinelli, and Bob Babich see in Thomas that led to the Bears selection of him?
It had to be his speed and athleticism. Scouts call him undersized, but he fits what the Bears do. He's a 4-3 Tampa 2 OLB.
3) What role does this coaching staff have in mind for Thomas during the upcoming season?
A core special teamer would be what they'd like in year one. Challenging for the starting strong side OLB spot would be gravy. He'll probably learn both OLB spots as a rookie to provide depth.
4) What will be the most difficult part of the transition from college to the NFL for Thomas to adapt to?
I think it's the same for most rookies, the speed of the game. All his shortcomings will be noticed even more against bigger, stronger, and faster players. But as a full time professional athlete with high quality coaching, he'll come around.
5) The Bears are known for producing legendary linebackers, from Butkus to Singletary to Urlacher. What is it about the Bears organization causes this to be or is there something about the city of Chicago that helps?
You forgot the man that started it all, Chicago's Bill George was the 1st great middle linebacker in the NFL. George basically invented the position when he stood up from his defensive middle guard position and backed off the line. A lot has to do with the tough defensive attitude that's been with the franchise since George Halas was running the show, add the blue collar toughness that Chicago fans respect so much.
6) Have Urlacher and Briggs shown a history of taking young players under their wings and being great mentors as well as being leaders?
There really hasn't been any mentoring type stories coming out of Bears training camps, but both are lauded as good teammates and good locker room guys. That's not to say they aren't taking young guys under their wings, they're both just not the 'look at me' type of player. With as serious in the film room as they both are, I'm sure the young fellas pick up alot in class.
7) We know that Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs are the anchors, and starters, at middle and weakside linebacker leaving Pisa Tinoisamoa as the starter on the strongside. If Thomas comes in, learns the Bears system, does what the coaches asks of him, and that translates into a success on the field, how long would it take for Thomas to supplant Tinoisamoa as a starter?
Pisa is a free agent and there has been no indication that he's definitely coming back. Nick Roach could be a free agent depending on the labor situation and he has starting experience. If Roach returns he'll probably be the strong side OLB starter, but Lovie Smith has shown a willingness to play rookies if they win the job. Thomas has a punchers chance with a good camp... if there is a camp...
I'd like to thank Lester Wiltfong for taking the time out to answer my questions. Check back here for a link to my interview on their website.
Next up: Chris Neild