Tra Thomas tackles coaching challenge

PHILADELPHIA -- Great players seldom make great coaches. So much of what made them great is impossible to teach to less-gifted pupils.

Tra Thomas, a three-time Pro Bowler in his 12-year career as a left tackle, is trying to be the exception. Thomas joined Chip Kelly’s staff through the Bill Walsh Minority Coaching Fellowship. After a spring and summer of working alongside offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland, Thomas was given a full-time job this week.

“He was here all through camp, extremely dedicated, one of the all-time great Eagles,” Kelly said. “I think the experience he brings -- not only as a player, he can relate to the offensive linemen.”

Thomas once told me his goal was to be named MVP of the league while playing left tackle. That never quite happened, but he was a big (6-foot-7, 350 pounds), agile blocker who protected Donovan McNabb’s blind side with a nasty streak in his style. It is no coincidence the Andy Reid era began its decline after 2008, the last year Thomas and Jon Runyan bookended the offensive line.

But it turns out Thomas was more than just a bigger, more athletically gifted guy.

“When you sit there and watch film with him, it’s just how much he’s studied tape on his own and what he learned about the game,” Kelly said. “I think he’s imparted that to a lot of the young linemen we have.”

Thomas, 38, said he consults with Stoutland before offering advice to a player.

“You try to teach them as much as they can,” Thomas said. “All you can do is give them the technique and then it’s up to them.”

Thomas said he hasn’t thought about long-term goals in coaching. He’s just enjoying this chance to stay in the game.

“The hours are a lot different,” Thomas said. “I learned that right away.”