NFL teams acted hurriedly to fill out their rosters with rookie free agents during the latter stages of the 2013 NFL draft. Those players with the highest ratings were the first to receive overtures.
An undrafted linebacker out of Marietta, Georgia did not hear his name called during the three-day process despite the fact that many considered him anywhere from a second to fifth round selection.
While monitoring the process, Chase Thomas experienced a myriad of emotions , watching some Stanford teammates selected whilewondering what the future held for him.
"There was some shock and disappointment. I just rolled with it. I can't dwell on it," said Thomas. "The Packers, Texans and Cardinals offered. San Diego called after my decision had been made."
The decision by Thomas (6'3-245) was to take his chances with the New Orleans Saints, a team rebuilding its defense.
The reputation of new Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, the Saints recent history of success and the opportunity to potentially hit the field early was appealing.
"I like the 3-4 defense. I knew that they needed outside linebacker depth, and I liked how Rob Ryan attacks the offense with multiple, aggressive blitz packages. I am willing to be involved in any special teams."
Thomas admitted to checking out past Dallas Cowboys games, focusing on key components of the Ryan defense. He talked to Ryan following the draft and learned how his talent could afford him opportunities in New Orleans to utilize his pass rushing and blitzing skills.
"The responsibilities are set most of the time, but it does allow some freedom to rush inside or outside. If I recognize something, I can adjust," the communications graduate remarked. Thomas admits to having closely observed the NFL's elite outside rushers like DeMarcus Ware, Clay Matthews and Aldon Smith while trying to add a wrinkle or two to his repertoire.
Thomas enjoyed a stellar prep career while at Walton High in Marietta under a Denham Springs, La. native, head coach Rocky Hidalgo, chase was a 3.8 honor student. while twice named All-State in football as a defensive end while earning All State recognition in lacrosse as well.
"He is a great student and the smartest football player that I'd ever coached," said Hidalgo glowingly about Thomas. "He was also one of the best conditioned athletes that I have ever coached."
As a 7th grader, young Chase trained under the tutelage of speed and agility expert Tony Vilani, whose group of clients included past and present NFL standouts Jamal Lewis, Hines Ward, Eric Berry and Wayne Gandy.
Intensity has never been lacking for Thomas. There were times during Lacrosse matches that Chase's coaches encouraged him to tone it down a bit.
"He was so physical that officials had to make sure that he wouldn't hurt anybody," Hidalgo laughed. "Not dirty, just physical."
Hidalgo explained that it wasn't just about physicality with Thomas, but as you would expect from a Stanford product, he is a cerebral players with a blue collar approach.
"He's a great football player. He'll put the work in, he'll make himself an NFL player. He'll show up and just outwork the competition. He'll study film. He made all of the defensive calls from his defensive end position. Opposing coaches would say how he'd ruin their offense. He was such a pleasure to coach," Hidalgo said.
The recruiting process was an interesting one for the young prospect who had 37 career sacks including a school record 17 in one season as a prepster. After fielding offers from the likes of Tennessee, North Carolina, LSU, Florida, Georgia Tech and Kentucky, Thomas finally settled on the Stanford Cardinal, wanting to play at the highly-regarded academic institution.
While on the west coast, Thomas was introduced to the 3-4 defensive approach at Stanford by a name many New Orleans football fans know well, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. Thomas feels there are similarities between the approach of Fangio, the former Saints assistant and current 49ers defensive coordinator, and Rob Ryan's philosphy.
"Both love to blitz the passer with a lot of different blitz packages, from a lot of areas like safeties, cornerbacks, everywhere," Thomas said.
There was plenty to attract Thomas to Stanford and the Pac-12. "The education, the weather, the coaching, trying to rebuild the program to get it to the elite status."
His arrival in Palo Alto, California came the year after Jim Harbaugh took the head coaching job there. Thomas was the top rated DE/OLB on their recruiting board. He was a dynamic addition that they had to have. When Harbaugh left for the San Francisco 49ers, Stanford offensive coordinator David Shaw replaced him and kept the ball rolling.
"Jim Harbaugh instilled the right mentality. He got us to practice harder. David Shaw was great. Two different coaching styles, but they both knew how to win. Every year we managed to overcome."
Having played in a highly successful and challenging program at Stanford has been a major benefit for his career. It help acclimate Thomas to being on center stage for big games. The Cardinal had a 43-10 record during Chase's career, including an Orange Bowl victory in 2010 and a 20-14 win over Wisconsin in this past season's Rose Bowl.
One of Stanford's biggest wins during the 2012 campaign was the 17-14 overtime victory at then-second ranked Oregon. Thomas and the Cardinal shut down the high-powered Ducks in a victory that served as a springboard for their Pac-12 championship finish.
Stanford replaced pro football talent and kept on winning. "Toby Gerhart graduated (in 2009), Jim Harbaugh and Andrew Luck leaving (in 2011). Many didn't think we'd succeed. We managed to put it together, winning the conference. It hadn't been done (at Stanford) in over a decade."
Stanford has churned out top NFL draft choices recently with two number one selctions from 2012 in top-overall selection Luck and offensive guard David Decastro plus three second rounders (TE Coby Fleener and OT Jonathan Martinin 2012 plus Zach Ertz in 2013).
Since Thomas only played outside linebacker during his final three years at Stanford, those sessions agaist quality NFL-calibur offensive talent helped in his defensive maturation process.
"Iron sharpens iron," he proclaimed, "Winning those battles helped my confidence. It makes you better."
At times Thomas seemed unblockable while other times he would occupy multiple blockers to free up teammates. He is a proven college performer who can both make plays and do his job.
Chase will head down to New Orleans later this week to begin his initiation to the NFL at a three day minicamp. He brings an attractive skill set and knows the areas in which he needs to improve. He is quite willing to work on any phase of the game that will help him see the field early. Being on the outside, you are on an island. Any mistake could prove costly.
"I don't take false steps, no wasted movement. They stressed that at Stanford. It came natural to me. It allows me to process everything, read the pre-snap and adjust to the alignment."
An area in which the Saints are deperate to improve and at which Thomas appears to be a natural is pressuring the quarterback.
"I like to pass rush, set the edge, make a play in the backfield, show some versatility. I like to set the edge, get off a block."
Defending against the pass is one facet that will be a big part of his responsibilities. He has made strides in that area.
"I keep working on that. Just started playing linebacker three years ago, I've gotten better. We did 70 percent dropping into coverage at Stanford. I'm a lot more comfortable."
Thomas would like to improve on his flexibility, his hips, fine tuning his pass rush skills while working to become a step quicker and a bit stronger.
Attracted to the play of Saints veterans Drew Brees and Jonathan Vilma, Thomas values their commitment and intensity. He should fit right into the culture of the organization.
Thomas has made a couple of visits to New Orleans previously, one for a friend's wedding and the other on January 1, 2003 to take in the Sugar Bowl matchup between Georgia and Florida State. He likes what he has already seen and plans on a long, extended stay.
"It's a fun town. There's great food, music, great culture and passionate fans. I'm definitely headed to Mardi Gras. I'd like to check it out. There's a long list of things to get done."
The first order a top that list will be making an impression on the Saints coaching staff to make th team. New Orleans has a strong recent history of taping into some undrafted players that have played key roles in the team's success. Players like Pierre Thomas, Joe Morgan, Lance Moore, Junior Gallete and Isa Abdul-Quddus are recent UDFA players to become keepers.
Saints general manager Mickey Loomis, head coach Sean Payton and the scouting department hope that they have uncovered another gem who will wear jersey number 58 for more than just a brief stay in the Crescent City.
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