EDITOR'S UPDATE 1:35AM - I just came across Matt Barrow's thoughts on Thomas over at the Sacramento Bee. Check it out at the end.
One day down and the 49ers were plenty active. Rather than go into great detail about our new 2nd string running back, DeShaun Foster, or our new 3rd string quarterback, J.T. O'Sullivan, I thought I'd primarily discuss Dontarrious Thomas. While there will be plenty to discuss about the other signings, Thomas is the one guy that most of us don't know much about, or what kind of impact he can provide.
So, I spoke with Chris over at Daily Norseman, our Minnesota Vikings blog. He had some interesting thoughts on Dontarrious Thomas:
Thomas was the primary backup at all three linebacker positions in 2006 and 2007, stepping in for spot start duty when injuries warranted. In both of those seasons, he was an outstanding special teams player, and could always be found getting in on a lot of tackles on kickoff and punt returns. Thomas is a bigger linebacker, and has pretty decent speed for a guy his size. I honestly believe that his athletic ability isn't what's holding him back. . .like I said, he's big, he's fast, and he's built like the proverbial brick outhouse. The problem thus far is that the mental part of his game really hasn't caught up with his physical ability. That's not to say that Thomas isn't intelligent. . .far from it, in fact. . .but when he's been called upon in game situations, he's gotten beaten in coverage quite a bit and has a tendency to make the wrong reads. He could be an interesting fit in a 3-4 scheme, because I think he's versatile enough to play any of the four linebacker spots because of his physical talents. He'll make an immediate impact on the 49ers special teams, and in time should be a decent contributor to their defense as well.
I also found his Scouts, Inc. scouting report over at ESPN.com:
Thomas has all of the measureable physical skills you look for in a NFL linebacker combining size, speed and athleticism. The development of those skills has not been immediate as Thomas must continue to improve his understanding of the game of football to better diagnose offensive schemes, blocking combinations and routes to react and make plays. Unfortunately, the game does not come naturally for Thomas with his lack of football instincts and his limited ability to process the game makes him hesitate in his reactions. This is a liability and will keep Thomas from being effective playing in the middle. Thomas must improve the angles he takes often having to use his excellent burst to overcome being out of position. Thomas has outstanding straight line speed giving him the range to play the entire field. Thomas plays with great effort making plays with his tremendous closing speed in pursuit. Thomas uses strong technique and is a good open field tackler bringing an explosive snap when he tackles the ball carrier. Thomas has the ability to be a good man coverage player but is susceptible to double moves also having to improve his awareness to be in better position when playing zone coverage. Thomas is best suited as weak side linebacker to utilize his outstanding physical talents without having to make too many decisions on the run. Thomas also excels as a tremendous special teams player with his speed and explosiveness.
From Matt Barrow's Sac Bee blog (check his blog out throughout the day for further info):
As for Thomas, Seifert (Vikings beat writer, NOT former 49ers coach) said that he is incredibly fast and athletic and is a very sharp guy. He did say, however, that there was a sense that Thomas never tapped his potential in Minnesota. When I told him that the vacant Ted linebacker spot in San Francisco required a player who wasn’t shy about taking on blocks, Seifert said that Thomas was more of a chase-down-the-ball carrier type player than a pound-the-line-of scrimmage player. That could mean that Thomas is being signed more as a back-up to Patrick Willis than as a replacement for Derek Smith. Perhaps the move is designed to allow Jeff Ulbrich, who is now Willis’ back-up, a chance to slide to Ted. Maybe it’s designed to light a fire under Brandon Moore. It is interesting to note that Thomas had one of his best games in his brief career (and one of his rare starts) against the 49ers in 2006 when he finished with eight tackles and a sack.
The common thread on him is that he excels at special teams and while he hasn't turned the "mental corner," he has the physical tools to be a very good linebacker. Maybe learning under Mike Singletary's tutelage will make things happen for him. Obviously Patrick Willis was a different type of physical beast, but he definitely benefited from working with Singletary. Let's hope for the same for Dontarrious Thomas.