- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 3, 2006

Randy Thomas raised his fist in recognition of the ovation from the fans as he was carted off the field with a broken right ankle during a pummeling of the Dallas Cowboys at FedEx Field in December.

The Washington Redskins guard, having the best season of his seven-year career, wasn’t sure when, or even if, he would return to his old self.

“It could have been my downfall,” Thomas said of the injury that put him on crutches and then in a protective boot for weeks. “I wasn’t sure I would be back. My being back out here has a lot to do with the type of person I am. I hate sitting on the sidelines. Those four weeks the team played without me were the worst of my life, sitting back and feeling sorry for myself.

“I didn’t get out of that [mood] until I was able to walk again.”

Once those dark clouds parted, Thomas attacked his rehabilitation with the verve he previously reserved for an opposing defensive tackle or a bucket of wings.

Thomas was back on the field before organized team activities wrapped up in mid-June.

“We’ve had veteran guys in the past play their rehabs into the third preseason game, but Randy worked his tail off,” said Bubba Tyer, the Redskins’ director of sports medicine.

Added offensive line coach Joe Bugel: “Let me tell you what dedication is. Everybody in the organization took a vacation [from mid-June until late July], and Randy was here … working two or three hours every day.”

It’s not like Thomas didn’t have anything else to do. He has a wife and four sons. But the confluence of the major injury and his 30th birthday in January caused him to take stock of his solid but as yet unspectacular career.

“The injury made me realize that you can go down on any play,” said Thomas, who before that injury had missed only four games in his career. “I can’t go back and undo it. It rejuvenated my career. This happened for a reason: to make me a better person and a player.

“I couldn’t miss a day [during the offseason]. I had my vacation. I had four weeks when the rest of the guys were playing. I’m loving every day I’m out here. I’m blessed to be here. This has to be my best season because it’s my next.”

This well could be his best season if what Thomas has shown so far in training camp is any indication.

“I never thought Randy would be able to come out for OTAs, and when he came out and ran some pulling plays and didn’t even limp …,” said Bugel, who called Thomas one of the top guards he has coached in his 29 NFL seasons.

Thomas looked sharp right from the start this week, getting the better of top Redskins defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin in their one-on-one battles Monday.

“I don’t know if Randy could get better from last year, but I think he has,” center Casey Rabach said. “You never see him miss a block.”

Rabach also said Thomas is so intent on being the leader of the line nicknamed the “Dirtbags” that he has transferred the vocal fire he reserved for the locker room last year into the huddle.

And Thomas, already highly regarded for his quickness at 6-foot-5 and 310 pounds, concentrated on improving his footwork during his arduous offseason. Coach Joe Gibbs believes Thomas’ renewed commitment will make a difference.

“The first time I saw Randy back on [the field during the OTAs], I couldn’t believe it,” Gibbs said. “He was running like it was nothing. Randy is extremely competitive. He paid a big price in the offseason. He was here every single day because he wanted to make sure he was ready.

“Normally, when I’ve seen that in the past, it has paid off in big dividends for the player and for us.”

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