Bryan Thomas is an upbeat person, a pleasant 6'4", 266-pound giant in the Jets locker room. But he's hard on himself when he reviews his on-field performance.
"I go through each and every play. I pick out certain plays I didn't do too well on," Thomas said of his spring routine. "I pick those plays and find out what I did wrong — where I took a false step, or I didn't use my hands well, or I was late off the ball, or I didn't read the play well. I try to use those things to get better in the upcoming season."
After starting all 16 regular-season games for the first time, plus the playoff game at New England, in 2006, Thomas could have concentrated on his personal bests of 8.5 sacks and 77 tackles. Instead of a highlight package, though, Thomas opted for an instructional video.
"Those plays I didn't do too well on, I use that as a learning tool," he said this week at Weeb Ewbank Hall. "I study those certain plays to find out what I did and what I have to do to get better."
Thomas, an athletically gifted defender, made a solid transition after the Jets moved from the 4-3 front. In the 3-4, Thomas played a hybrid end/outside 'backer and continued to be stout against the run while increasing pressure on the quarterback.
"I look at it as a breakthrough year. With Eric [Mangini] bringing in a new system, people were wondering if I could make the transition," he said. "I studied and watched film and did things that were necessary, and it all worked out very well. I love the system."
The Thomas advancement came on the heels of the blockbuster off-season trade that sent John Abraham to the Atlanta Falcons. With the departure of the three-time AFC Pro Bowler, Thomas was penciled into the lineup.
"I learned behind some good players. When I finally got the opportunity, I just had to take advantage of it," he said. "I wasn't going to let anything hold me back and stop me from taking advantage of this opportunity given to me by Eric, by Mike [Tannenbaum] and the coaches."
Thomas, seemingly a rookie just yesterday, will turn 28 in June and is now one of the longest-tenured members of the Green & White. He says leadership is multifaceted.
"I have to be a leader on the defense for the rookies and the up-and-coming guys. I have to be a vocal leader and a leader with my play," he said. "I can't just talk. I have to make plays and perform on the field. It is all about doing both of those things."
The Jets returned to Hempstead this week and started their off-season workout program. Strength coach Sal Alosi, a Long Island native back for his second tour of duty, has offered the players classes in boxing, yoga and martial arts. Thomas was already familiar with the last.
"I did a lot of the martial arts last year. I trained with Martin Rooney, the instructor they're using this year, over in New Jersey at this workout facility called Parisi Speed School. Rooney has trained many clients, including the Gracie brothers [of the Brazilian martial arts family]. It was really beneficial to me."
Thomas says martial arts and boxing will be helpful to his teammates.
"Every position has to use their hands. The receivers have to get off jams, the defensive backs are trying to jam the receivers, and the defensive ends and defensive tackles and nose tackles are trying to beat the offensive linemen.
"Hand-to-hand combat has a lot to do with football. You can't beat every lineman off the edge. Sometimes you have to use your hands because those guys are good, too, and strong. If they get their hands on you, you have to knock those hands down or out of the way. The fundamentals you learn in boxing and martial arts will help you a lot."
Thomas enjoyed the off-season time he spent with wife and his 2-year-old son, Bryan Jr., on vacations to both Puerto Rico and his native Alabama. In the past year, Thomas' father, Stanley, retired from his job as a coal miner outside Tuscaloosa, Ala.
"He was a pretty hard worker. He took care of my brothers and sisters every day," said Thomas, the fourth-youngest of six children raised by Stanley Thomas. "For us to have food on the table, he had to go to work each and every day. He would always take time to support us at after-school events and other activities."
That work ethic was passed down to the man affectionately dubbed B.T. And that's why he continues to study the film with further development on his mind.