ST. JOSEPH, Mo. – The NFL got a taste of Chiefs rookie running back De’Anthony Thomas’ explosive return skills after an 80-yard punt return for a touchdown in the preseason opener.
Thomas brought that skill from Oregon where he holds school records in kickoff return yards (1,885 yards) and punt return average (17.13 yards). He added five special teams touchdowns (four kickoff returns, one punt return).
A skill yet unleashed on opponents surrounds Thomas’ receiving ability, but that’s coming with extra tutelage.
Training camp observers need to look closely on the practice field during the early portion of position drills. The running backs occupy one end zone, while the wide receivers occupy the opposite end zone.
Thomas doesn’t work with either position group. Instead, he’s between the formations working on route running with spread game analyst/special projects coach Brad Childress.
“That was Brad’s title to work with those guys,” coach Andy Reid said. “I’m not going to say De’Anthony is a hybrid, but he does a lot of different things like he did in college at Oregon and he’s still doing it here.”
While Thomas remains listed as a running back, the Chiefs plan to work the fourth-round pick into the passing game. The Chiefs need a replacement for wide receiver Dexter McCluster, who signed a free-agent deal with the Tennessee Titans.
And Thomas brings versatility, recording 113 catches for 1,296 yards and 15 touchdowns at Oregon.
The 5-9, 174-pound Thomas has lined up in the slot or outside throughout training camp. But he’s still catching up after missing organized team activities (OTAs) due to Oregon’s academic quarter system.
Thomas said working individually with Childress, a former NFL head coach and offensive coordinator as well as a former wide receivers coach at the University of Utah, has helped.
“I’m just trying to be a better route runner,” Thomas said. “There are a lot of great NFL corners in this league and I just want to use that to my ability. That will help our offense more with me lining up outside and working routes.”
Reid said in addition to Childress, Thomas has been working with assistant head coach/wide receivers coach David Culley and mostly running back Eric Bieniemy.
And Thomas welcomes the combined guidance to develop him into a polished receiver whenever he lines up against cornerbacks.
“They know certain routes,” Thomas said. “You just have to know your right assignments, use your hands a lot and try to make plays.”
Still, working with four coaches when including special teams coordinator Dave Toub could prove information overflow for a 21-year-old rookie.
But Thomas smiled at the suggestion before offering reassurance the scenario doesn’t exist as he grows into his role with the offense and special teams.
“I’m getting used to it now,” Thomas said. “I’ve been here now for a couple of weeks. I’m getting a routine of it and it’s been a great experience so far.”
The Chiefs head coach agreed.
“The kid has a lot on his plate,” Reid said, “and he’s handling it very well.”