Thomas Ready For More Football

any medical expert, mind you, but by big Ol' Leonard Davis. The Cowboys' 6-6, 353-pound guard busted through the line to get on Thomas. Put the veteran on his butt. Hard. Like one of those double-bounce hards that rattle your noggin.  No problem. He bounced right up. He continued practicing, and came back for the afternoon workout.

So for those who were somewhat skeptical of the Cowboys not only signing Thomas, but feeling secure enough to trade away their two-year starter he'll replace, Akin Ayodele, this is a good sign. We'll have to wait until the no-holds-barred preseason games for an even better sign when it comes to his physical fitness.  Now then, as for if the guy still can play?

Look, until last year Thomas had gone to seven Pro Bowls in eight seasons, from 1999 through 2006. He would only play five games last year in Miami but still had 52 tackles. That would have tied Kevin Burnett for eighth place on the Cowboys for all of last year.

So as long as his head is right, apparently there is nothing wrong with his skills.

That's another thing we've observed so far in these practices. This undersized linebacker - he's 5-11 (maybe), 242, and possibly shrinking after all the hits in this league - still ends up at the football with uncanny regularity.

Now Phillips has been saying this about Thomas all off-season. Yeah, yeah, but that's no-pads OTA's and mini-camps. This here is nearly the real stuff. While they might not be all-out tackling, they are blocking pretty aggressively.

Yet there is Thomas, running down ball carriers trying to turn the corner on the sideline. Either sideline.

There he is, snuffing out these wide receiver-arounds. Not the linebacker at the end of the line in this 3-4 defense, mind you, but the guy inside who must negotiate so much traffic just in hopes of cutting the running back off at the pass. And it hasn't mattered if it's Marion Barber or Felix Jones. No way he has their speed but the crafty veteran understands angles and his instincts are uncommon.

That's what the Cowboys had in mind when taking this chance on Thomas, knowing if they were going to improve this 3-4 defense that weak inside backer had to make more plays, and not only in the running game but also in the passing game. It's not unusual to see Thomas 20 yards downfield, keeping up with a running back or tight end - once even a wide receiver - in the pass pattern.

"Me and Wade got spoiled in San Diego," Stewart said, referring to their 3-4 defense there. "Donnie Edwards made those kinds of plays sideline to sideline."  They certainly are counting on being spoiled by Thomas, whose seniority and track record have given him first crack at the starting job but certainly not a guarantee with youngsters such as Kevin Burnett and Bobby Carpenter pushing hard from behind. But that's OK, and OK with Thomas. He's such a football purist he wouldn't want it any other way.

There is this theory about hanging around with young people keeps you young.

"I look at it like a coach," said the 61-year-old Dave Campo, in the league even longer than Thomas. "Some guys who are 60-years old act old, look old. Others don't. He doesn't."

Zach isn't acting old, and in his mind, nor foolish trying to play another season, taking another shot at that ring former Cowboys wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, now retired, says motivates older players to keep on playing if they can. Thomas is convinced he can, and he seems to be convincing the Cowboys.

Campo, the Cowboys' former defensive coordinator, said, "It would be a mistake" to think Thomas was taking a chance with his continued good health, "because he's smart enough to know. He's not."

And the early returns say he isn't.

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