- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 15, 2007

When Washington Redskins right tackle Jon Jansen waved to acknowledge the cheers of fans as he was carted off the field with a season-ending fractured fibula and dislocated ankle last Sunday at FedEx Field, right guard Randy Thomas had a case of deja vu.

“It gave me chills,” Thomas said. “You’re focusing on the game, but in the back of my mind, I’m thinking, ‘That’s a hard road back. It’s going to take a lot of nights fighting through it.’ ”

Thomas had exited the field the same way after suffering a similar injury during a critical December 2005 game against Dallas. Thomas, who had missed just four games in his previous six NFL seasons, attacked his rehabilitation with vigor. He was back on the field before organized team activities ended the following June and was one of just seven Redskins to start every game last season.

“It was remarkable how fast Randy came back,” offensive line coach Joe Bugel said. “The biggest injustice is that Randy has never been to the Pro Bowl. I watch a lot of tape and there aren’t many guards better in the NFC. Randy’s such a good athlete. He runs so smooth and he’s one of the strongest guys we have. He’s just as good as he was before he got hurt. He had a banner year last year.”

Bugel is prone to exaggeration, but Thomas did help the 5-11 Redskins average a sterling 4.5 yards a carry and allow just 19 sacks — despite losing top running back Clinton Portis at midseason and inserting rookie quarterback Jason Campbell at the same juncture.

Thomas said the broken leg — his first serious injury — made him realize how much he truly loved football.

“I never thought my ankle was going to hold me back,” the 31-year-old Thomas said. “This game is so much a pleasure. You never know when it’s your last [play]. I take every moment and enjoy it.”

That is the way Thomas is approaching playing next to a new man for the fifth time in six years. In 2002, Thomas’ last year with the New York Jets, it was right tackle Kareem McKenzie. Thomas was new to Washington’s line in 2003. Ray Brown stepped in at right tackle when Jansen was lost for the season in August 2004. Casey Rabach took over at center in 2005. And now Todd Wade replaces Jansen.

With Jansen out with a torn calf muscle, Thomas and Wade teamed well in their first game together last Dec. 17 in New Orleans as the Redskins upset the eventual NFC runner-up Saints 16-10 in the loud Superdome.

“I can deal with a lot of stuff,” Thomas said of the constant change. “You just hope that you do your job and build something together with who’s ever in there. You’ve got to have a sense of humor to get the new guy relaxed and feeling good about everything.”

Having started at right tackle for Miami and Houston for six years, Wade is relaxed. And he feels good about playing next to Thomas, beginning Monday in Philadelphia’s ever-noisy Lincoln Financial Field.

“Randy’s the best guard I’ve played next to,” Wade said. “He’s very good at setting up blocks for the tackle. He plays with great leverage, great technique. He’ll make my job a lot easier. That game last year in New Orleans will help us now. It’s one thing to do it in practice. It’s another in a game situation.”

Aside from his wife and four children (and food, he can wipe out an all-you-can-eat buffet), games are what get Thomas going. Not a big talker in the locker room or on the practice field, the 6-foot-5, 317-pound Mississippi State graduate becomes another person in the minutes before kickoff.

“Randy prepares great speeches,” Bugel said with a laugh. “He has a little ritual where he sees how many swear words he can get out in 10 seconds.”

Now Thomas has to work with Wade to make sure Jansen’s absence doesn’t prompt a repeat performance in the postgame locker room out of disgust.

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