Thomas won appeal, why not starting job?

SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Thomas bites his tongue when coaches use his unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in last year's NFC playoff loss to San Francisco as an example of what happens when a player loses his cool.

That says a lot about the fourth-year player hoping to reclaim his starting job.

Thomas easily could point to the appeal he won against the NFL, which fined him $7,000 on top of the 15-yard penalty he got in the game that ended any hope the Panthers had in the 23-10 loss.

He doesn't. Thomas wants the Carolina defensive backs to learn from that situation as he did.

In this case, Thomas learned that when the officials are calling penalties the way they were -- unfairly in his mind -- you have to be more aware than normal of everything you do.

In his case, the officials fined Smith for taking a swing at wide receiver Quinton Patton with about four minutes left on a third-and-10 play that gained only 2 yards.

Let's let Thomas pick it up from here.

"You look at it, it looks as if I tried to strike the guy,'' Thomas said. "His head was between my legs. So when I went to toss him down and as he was getting up, he was pulling me down. So when I went to club at his hand, it looked like I tried to strike him.''

Thomas said the official that overturned his fine saw that when reviewing the play.

The official also told Thomas to take it as a learning experience. He is, which is why he doesn't defend himself when it's used by Carolina coaches.

"As a player this year, looking back at that playoff game when it was as sketchy [officiating] as it was, you've got to know the kind of situation that you're in, how they're going to call the game,'' Thomas said. "I feel they were calling a bad game the whole game in terms out of fairness. I just know now to avoid those kind of situations, just to keep it clean.''

To be fair, there were questionable calls that were costly to Carolina. Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn was penalized for head-butting and safety Mike Mitchell was called for unnecessary roughness. Neither was fined.

San Francisco receiver Anquan Boldin was fined for head-butting Mitchell but not penalized in the game. That led to a 1-yard San Francisco touchdown just before the half.

Thomas said there's no doubt he didn't lose his cool.

"I'm a physical player by nature,'' he said. "Anytime I do anything on the field with my hands and getting into a receiver, it's always going to draw a lot of attention.''

Thomas wants to draw attention this season for his performance. He lost favor with the coaches last season and went from a starter to inactive for a handful of games.

He believes he can still be a starter even though he missed the first week of training camp with back spasms and the coaches consistently have put Melvin White and Antoine Cason with the first team. He also has to contend with Charles Godfrey, making the transition from safety to corner, rookie Bene' Benwikere and Josh Norman.

Thomas doesn't care.

Asked if he could be a starter, he answered with the confidence you expect to see in a player who basically works on an island.

"Can I be a starter?,'' Thomas said. "Man, I was a starter before. There you go. I feel like the sky is the limit for me.''

Hey, he already won an appeal.