- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 24, 2004

If all goes as planned, the play should be repeated over and over and years from now might be considered “vintage Randy Thomas.”

It came Saturday night at Miami. Thomas, the Washington Redskins’ right guard, pulled wide left on a sweep to running back Clinton Portis and, along with left guard Derrick Dockery, graded a wide, clear path. The speedy rusher was gone in an instant, 22 yards upfield.

Without an agile guard like Thomas coming from the other side, that play doesn’t happen. But the Redskins have Thomas, and now Thomas has coach Joe Gibbs. The pairing could be special this season as Gibbs runs an offense that frequently puts its linemen on the move.

“It goes to my ability,” Thomas said yesterday. “I think last year I took a year off as far as playing my game. I don’t feel I was used to the best of my ability.”

Thomas, like a number of 2003 teammates, wanted then-coach Steve Spurrier to devise and utilize more complex plays to run the ball. Four years with the New York Jets proved Thomas could run and block in space as well as any guard in the league, but last year he felt like his ankles were cuffed together.

“I’ve been doing it ever since I was in the league — except last year,” Thomas said. “I mean, we were so predictable. We didn’t do NFL stuff.”

A return to “NFL stuff” could earn Thomas his first Pro Bowl berth. Making third alternate last season, when Washington’s offensive line endured league-wide scorn, showed Thomas might be only a winning season away from significant recognition.

“There’s no reason — and we don’t have any excuses — that he shouldn’t be the guy at the guard position,” assistant head coach for offense Joe Bugel said. “He’s a strong guy who can run, who can think on his feet, who can do a lot of things. He’s the real thing, the total package.”

Thomas credits his quick feet to his background as a basketball forward and a defensive lineman. He weighed about 235 pounds when he graduated Tri Cities High School in East Point, Ga., but he didn’t academically qualify to attend Mississippi State right away. At Copiah-Lincoln (Miss.) Community College, he made the switch to guard.

“I was kind of mad,” Thomas said wistfully. “I wanted to play that end. I could have got some sacks.”

His Bruce Smith fantasies notwithstanding, Thomas believes having played on the defensive line provides him a unique mentality when he’s blocking on the run. Simply put, he’s looking to steamroll someone.

“[I’ve] got that defensive mind where you’ve got to get to the guy,” Thomas said. “Every time I hit somebody, I think they’ve got the ball.”

Alas, not everyone is blown away by Thomas’ agility. Portis, for one, joked that Thomas “needs to get a little faster,” saying, “If he can get his speed down to 4.4, 4.3 [seconds in the 40-yard dash], I’ll love that.”

Seriously, though, Portis respects a guard who has got a gear besides four-wheel-drive low.

“Just to see him downfield 20 yards trying to block, that’s exciting,” Portis said. “It gives you something to look forward to during the season.”

The irony of Thomas’ quick feet is that, by all accounts, he should have long since punched his ticket to fat camp. Steaks, seafood, ribs — you name it, and Thomas has eaten it in vast quantities, perhaps in the last 24 hours.

This offseason he even opened up a down-home restaurant in suburban Atlanta — RT’s Ribs ‘n’ Flavas, where his mom is chef. And the magazine FHM staged a shrimp eat-off between him and Sonya Thomas, an Alexandria resident of no relation, who is the top-ranked speed eater in the United States by the International Federation of Competitive Eating.

Randy Thomas, despite setting a Cotton Bowl record in 1999 by eating nine prime ribs at Lawry’s Steakhouse in Dallas, was no match for Sonya Thomas.

“The [darn] woman ate 6 pounds, 10 minutes,” he said, shaking his head in disbelief. “And look, she went back and ordered a steak for dinner. And bloomin’ onions and stuff.”

When told that his nemesis last weekend won a lobster eat-off in Kennebunk, Maine — where she consumed 38 lobsters in 12 minutes — he became giddy at the thought of eating so much of his favorite food.

“She’s my role model, dog,” Thomas said. “When I retire, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to travel the world and just eat.”

Fortunately for the Redskins, the 28-year-old appears to have a lot of good years left in his 306-pound frame. The pro lobster circuit will have to wait.

“I’m glad we have him because I think he’s one of the top guards in the league,” Bugel said.

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