Versatility helped J.T. Thomas earn spot

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The more you can do on the football field, the better the chance you will find a home. That is why J.T. Thomas made the Jacksonville Jaguars' 53-man roster and Nate Stupar didn’t.

The Jaguars chose Thomas for the sixth linebacker spot because Thomas has the versatility to play inside and outside linebacker. Stupar, who did a solid job last season as middle linebacker as Paul Posluszny's backup and is a very good special teams player, is strictly an inside player.

"We knew that he [Thomas] could play Will [weakside linebacker]," Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said. "We wanted to see if he could play Mike, because in our linebacking situation, we need a swing guy. That was the competition between him and Stupar: Who could play both and give us the best opportunity?"

It’s easier to take an outside linebacker and ask him to play inside than to take an inside linebacker and ask him to play outside. Thomas was an outside linebacker at West Virginia, although he did play inside on third downs, and that is where he spent his time in his first two seasons in Chicago after the Bears drafted him in the sixth round in 2011.

He played outside linebacker and special teams with the Jaguars last season, but went into organized team activities and minicamp hoping to get some work inside to help increase his value.

"I had kind of been eying that position a little bit since the spring, just making myself a little bit more versatile, and I know that that can help the team and help myself as well," Thomas said. "I just embraced it. From the moment they told me I’d be playing a little bit of middle linebacker, I was rather excited for it. And I’ve been able to grasp concepts pretty easily."

He's had a lot of help. Thomas said he learned a lot from playing with Brian Urlacher in Chicago and from spending time with Posluszny last season. Plus, his father, J.T. Thomas Sr., was a middle linebacker at West Virginia from 1994-95, and he talks to him often.

Thomas isn’t built like a middle linebacker -- he’s 6-foot-1 but only 236 pounds -- but he has the traits that are more important than size: he’s athletic and he can run.

"You have to be [versatile] and you have to be able to run, and those are my strong assets," said Thomas, who made 17 tackles on defense and six on special teams last season. "I can be athletic in the inside and be able to make some plays on the perimeter. I definitely use my speed and quickness to my advantage."

Thomas is still going to see a lot of playing time on special teams this season. But in addition to backing up Posluszny he will also back up starting weakside linebacker Geno Hayes, who is coming back from knee surgery. The Jaguars are going to use Thomas to help manage Hayes’ reps.