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Mickey Spagnola: Zach Thomas is indeed back

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Zach Indeed Is Back

Early Contact Says Thomas Ready For More Footballspagnola_50.jpgMickey Spagnola - Email

DallasCowboys.com Columnist

July 29, 2008 10:09 PMChange Font SizeAAAA


Zach isn't acting old, and in his mind, nor foolish trying to play another season.

OXNARD, Calif. - If he was worried, he didn't show it.

If there was lingering anxiety, he didn't act like it.

If he was relieved, he didn't say it.

Now it's early here in training camp. Just Tuesday, the fifth day of practice at the River Ridge Sports Complex where an earthquake registering 5.4 hitting L.A. in the afternoon shook up camp here. The team has gone through just seven practices, four of those double sessions on Saturday and Monday. The contact has been consistent yet regulated.

But there does seem to be one thing apparent so far:

Zach is back.

That is, Zach Thomas, you know the 12-year veteran and owner of seven Pro Bowl trips who could have easily walked away from the game this past off-season when the Miami Dolphins, the only team he ever had played for in the NFL, decided he no longer fit in their plans.

Yet he was not ready to quit, not if someone else would have him, and the Dallas Cowboys, his home-state team, having grown up in the Texas Panhandle-town of Pampa, said we're willing to take a low-financial chance on you in hopes of the concussion issues cutting that 12th season in 2007 short by 11 games had been resolved.

So he quietly moved into the Cowboys organization. No press conference.

Little fan-fare. And with an absence of ego, working out with his new teammates on a regular basis as if some first-year free agent trying to make his first NFL 53-man roster.

Just like he wanted it, knowing it was not his place to big-time his new mates from a team which went 13-3 last year and sent 13 players to the Pro Bowl. Some roots grow deep, as do those ones of humility small towns normally generate.

Only the ever-glow of the Cowboys star could upstage what Saturday meant to Thomas. Hey, that's what happens when you're on the same team with Tony Romo sits to pee and Terrell Owens and DeMarcus Ware. That's what happens when the guy they're calling "Pac," Adam Jones, is practicing in pads for the first time since the 2006 season.

To Thomas, Saturday's two practices in pads were just two more in the thousands of practices during his football career. So leave it to me to ask him if this was some sort of landmark day, if there had been any trepidation putting the pads on for the first time since playing the Patriots last year on Oct. 21, after which that next week he suffered the migraines caused by a car accident nearly five weeks after he left the game against the Cowboys (Sept. 16) with a concussion.

Thomas grinned. He knew the question would inevitably be asked.

He basically said he wasn't stupid, that if he thought for one minute he was in danger of suffering further damage after the concussion of last year and the migraines following the subsequent car accident, then he wouldn't even be on the practice field out here.

For what?

He doesn't have to be out here. This is not some financial thing where he just needs to make another $1 million. He appears pretty secure, and secure in who he is in these near 35 years of life.

"What's the difference between 12 and 13 years?" Thomas said, pointing out that he basically didn't need to be out here if he didn't want to be. "Not much. If I didn't have the love for the game I would have stepped away.

"Everybody can walk away like Michael Strahan but I'm going to try to play."

And from what Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips can tell from the controlled contact so far in training camp, it appears Thomas still can play.

"He butted up pretty good with Leonard Davis," Phillips said after Saturday's practice. "They can say they're over them (concussions and the after-affects) but you like to see them overcome their problems, and he did."

At least the head coach was a tad curious to see what would happen in pads.

The defensive coordinator said he was not.

"Not by me," Brian Stewart said if he had any anxiety over Thomas' first contact. "I didn't expect anything negative."

Thomas was further checked out in Monday's morning practice. Not by 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.

Source : http://www.dallascowboys.com/news/news.cfm?id=7206D3B9-0925-69CE-88748E4BE4830F1C

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Dude is one hit away from being Humpty Dumpty. For his and his family sake, I hope he can make it though the year without getting his clock cleaned.

reality is, he hasn't made it through an entire season since '03, and odds don't favor that changing this season.

I hope he can too, because concussions are nothing to mess with

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I am sure if it were that serious the Doctors would not allow him to play.

Because Neurologists know so much about how concussions affect players. For the sarcastically impaired, they don't. Seriously all they know at this time is that after you have one your susceptibility to another is increase in order of magnitude.

As I said, I hope for his health and well being that he doesn't suffer another.

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When healthy, I doubt anyone is gonna argue against Zach Thomas as a great inside linebacker. But the thing is, he's been having way too many concussion problems for one article to suddenly make me think it's all better.

As others have said, I hope he stays healthy. Concussions are a nasty business.

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Anyone have a handle on Zach's history with concussions?

I don't believe he had any problems before he had a mild concussion vs Dallas followed by a car wreck with whiplash (concussion?) and recurring migraines.

Not to mention the reoccurring migranes were later found to be the result of a deviated septum. He could have played again last year if the Dolphin's doctors hadn't misdiagnosed the cause of his headaches.

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Not to mention the reoccurring migranes were later found to be the result of a deviated septum. He could have played again last year if the Dolphin's doctors hadn't misdiagnosed the cause of his headaches.

That's exactly what Im trying to get my hands on. Im trying to appreciate how much of a increased risk does Thomas actually have for future concussions.

I know of the one vs Dallas and then the car wreck with what I read caused whiplash and recurring "concussion-like" symptoms, namely migraines.

How much of his migraine problems after the accident were due to some type of brain injury and how much could be attributed to the deviated septum which has subsequently been repaired?

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