Making a big tackle that even knocked his helmet off, Cravens got up just fine and jogged off the field, saying later how good it felt to get a tackle in after more than a year away from the game.
But a swollen knee two days later revealed the need for a scope and a placement on Injured Reserve.
Enter Dymonte Thomas.
The first-year safety (by official NFL terms but second year with the Broncos) had been having a great offseason, showing off his speed in coverage throughout camp and during preseason games.
But he was looking at being sixth or seventh among all the safeties in the room.
Then a season-ending injury to Jamal Carter Sr. mid-August bumped Thomas up the crowded defensive backs roster, and the weekend news on Cravens inched Thomas up the chart a little more.
Now the former undrafted free agent is the fourth safety on the roster, backup for Will Parks, and one who will be used frequently in dime formations - a spot he hadn’t really played until the third preseason game against the Redskins.
“He wasn’t a dime all last year. He wasn’t really a dime until the Washington week. That’s been impressive,” head coach Vance Joseph said Monday. “He can play that close to the ball, in coverage and in the run game, and not flinch. That’s a hard job for a young safety who’s never done it before. He’s been impressive as far as doing that job for us.”
With Su’a Cravens move to IR and pending knee surgery, I feel Dymonte Thomas will surprise a lot of people. He’s been a gem that was stashed on practice squad last couple of seasons. Thomas had strong preseason which prompted #Broncos to keep 5 Safeties on 53.— Cody Roark (@CodyRoarkNFL) September 3, 2018
Thomas, who filled in for an injured Justin Simmons last year late in the season, knows the pressure of having to come in for a starter and perform.
But now he’s got a few games under his belt playing with the starters plus some experience two weeks ago playing the dime.
“It took me a few days. Football’s football, nothing has changed. The yards are still the same, the hashes are a little smaller now, but at the end of the day it’s still 11 men out there on the field and you’ve got to go out there and make the plays that come to you,” Thomas said. “That was my biggest thing - make the plays that come to you. Don’t go out there and do anything extra or anything special, because when you do that, that’s when you make mistakes.”
Speaking to Mile High Report earlier this summer, Thomas noted that he learned a lot from the veterans in the locker room about playing safety at the next level, and he appears to be putting that to good use right now.
“I just went out there and said, ‘You can do this, you got this. You studied the playbook, now just go out there and have fun,’” he said about his Washington debut in the dime position. “The first drive I had a lot of butterflies in me, but after that I settled in. Once I made that fourth-down stop, I was just like, ‘I can play this. I can do this.’ It helped me stay confident.”
His confidence came from several factors, including taking film and playbook study seriously - something he told MHR he learned to do from the guy he had to fill in for last year.
It paid off against Washington.
“When I was at dime I just tried to slow the game down. Studying film helped me do that. It helped me see the plays before they came,” he said, adding that it’s important to really study the linemen and try to figure out which will “pull” based upon their stance. “Or, if the back is kind of far wide, you know you’ve got him, he’s going to release. You’ve got to understand the whole concept with offense at dime, which makes you a better player individually at the end of the day.”
And support from his coaches and teammates gave Thomas a great confidence boost for taking on the dimebacker position.
“VJ pulled to me aside, and said, ‘hey, if we didn’t think you could do this, we wouldn’t put you here. If we didn’t think you could make these plays, we wouldn’t run the dime. But we trust you and believe in you. You’re fast and long, and we think you can cover tight ends, so go out and play,’” Thomas told Orange and Blue Radio, adding that Todd Davis had gone over “about 40 plays” with him the night before the game. “Once [Davis] did that, I felt very comfortable.”
Successfully covering veteran tight end Vernon Davis in that game boosted his confidence even more - just in time to be needed in the regular season.
“It was third-and-long...and I was on top of him in one of our coverages. He pushed off a little bit and he went to go catch the ball and dropped it,. Then I was like, ‘You can’t do this. You’ve got to have better coverage on him. You’re team is depending on you. You’re out here with the ones and this is your way to make the team.’ I said to myself, ‘It’s do or die. You’re either making the team based off of this game or you’re not.’”
You know the end to that story.