After totaling a career-high 8.5 sacks in 2006, OLB Bryan Thomas shed the “bust” label that followed him since being drafted 22nd overall in 2002. As a reward for his punishing pass rush, he inked a five-year, $20 million extension shortly after the season. Last year…Thomas again hit a detour in his road to the quarterback.

Thomas struggled mightily last season to meet the lofty expectations attached to his mega-deal, as he recorded just 2.5 sacks and in week 14, he was replaced by David Bowens in the starting lineup. Back in May, he admitted to reporters that he become “too complacent” last year and his work ethic suffered as a result.

“I’m not saying the effort, I’m saying the extra things after practice,” Thomas told reporters this afternoon in explaining his film study and football techniques. “I did those things, but not as much. Some days I would say ‘OK, I’ll get it tomorrow.’ I just feel there were some things I did after practice that I didn’t take the extra initiative to do.”

But not was all lost for the former first-round selection, as Thomas re-dedicated himself this offseason to his post-practice work regimen which included spending additional time on the practice field and in the film room studying his next opponent.

“This year, I felt I put a lot more effort into it. Hopefully it’ll show throughout the season,” he said.

Thomas’ head coach, Eric Mangini, has taken notice.

“Bryan had a very good offseason, in the weight room, in the classroom, all those different areas,” said Mangini. “That’s not to say that the year before he had a bad offseason, but he was able to go back, objectively look at his performance, objectively look at the things that he did and be really honest with himself. That’s what you’re always asking.”

Jets Defensive Coordinator Bob Sutton has seen similar improvements in Thomas’ preparation away from the field.

“He’s done a really job to prove himself from a knowledge of understanding standpoint from his position. He’s becoming more of an expert at it and that’s really a lot of credit to him,” said Sutton.

In last Sunday’s season opening win over Miami, Thomas provided a return for his hard work, as he sacked Dolphins’ quarterback Chad Pennington twice in the 20-14 victory. Thomas also contributed four tackles to a stout run defense, which limited Dolphins’ running backs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams to a combined 47 yards on 16 carries.

Thomas’ early success as a run defender has stood as a glaring improvement, one in which Mangini is fortunate enough to enjoy.

“He’s been very good in terms of the running game, being stout in the running game, being able to control the end of the line of scrimmage,” said Mangini.

Thomas certainly has faced a difficult task, aside from the challenge of rushing the quarterback. After lining up at defensive end during his college career at Alabama-Birmingham and in his first four years with Gang Green, he switched to outside linebacker in Mangini’s patented 3-4 defense before the 2006 season. Three years later, Thomas is still trying to polish his role in the system, where improvements have been made.

“I think that his level of understanding of the defense continues to get better,” said Mangini. “It was a real position switch for him, and he had stood up some, but part of being a linebacker, there’s just three years into it, where a lot of linebackers come into the league and they played it in pee-wee, high school, college and he’s making that transition, and I’ve liked his approach.”

Whether Thomas lines up at outside linebacker or defensive end, he knows his mission is simple: get to the quarterback. However, the seventh-year linebacker is no longer content with turning in just one solid performance. The rigourous workout regimen that proved so successful for last week’s opener will remain constant, no matter what happens.

“If I didn’t have any sacks the previous week I am going to prepare the same way I have been preparing since OTA’s and training camp,” said Thomas. “There is no difference if you get two sacks or none. I am going to go out there and practice the best I can, prepare the best I can in the classroom.”
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