SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Their rookie minicamp is over, but the NFL education is only beginning for the San Francisco 49ers' rookie class.
For most of them, that education will continue at the team's facility during the next five weeks or so. But an NFL rule will keep perhaps the 49ers' most prominent rookie from entering the building again until mid-June.
Third overall pick Solomon Thomas participated fully in last weekend's rookie minicamp and, for him, it might have been even more meaningful than for the rest of his rookie teammates.
"It’s really important to show the coaches how I’m going to work, how I’m going to play, my effort on the field," Thomas said. "Of course I’m going to have some mess-ups, but I’m going to try to be as perfect as I can be and just show them how hard I’m going to play for them."
The reason for Thomas' forthcoming absence is a league rule that dictates that players can't participate in offseason activities with their teams until classes at their universities are over.
For most rookies, school is out in mid-May. But Stanford (and several other schools, especially on the West Coast) are on the quarters system. Thomas said he will be able to return June 17, which means he will miss all of the team's organized team activities and, likely, the team's final minicamp. Receiver Trent Taylor, a fellow rookie from Louisiana Tech, is also going to miss time while waiting for classes to end.
This is not the first time this has happened to a Niners first-round pick. Last year, guard Joshua Garnett, who also attended Stanford, had a similar wait.
Thomas remembered seeing Garnett around the Palo Alto campus working out while waiting for his chance to head the 13 miles down the 101 to Levi's Stadium.
"After Joshua got drafted, he was back at Stanford training with [Stanford director of sports performance] coach [Shannon] Turley," Thomas said. "He took classes for a little bit, but then it got to a point where he stopped taking classes. He was just around working. So, I was trying to get work with him when he was back. But, he was just in the area, stayed in the area because Santa Clara’s about a 20-minute drive, a 15-minute drive. So, he just stayed in the area close to his new home.”
The missed time didn't set Garnett back too much, though it probably contributed to the fact that he didn't become a starter at the beginning of the season. He didn't land in the starting lineup until an October game against Buffalo, but he went on to start 11 games.
Now that Thomas and Garnett are teammates again, Thomas has said he'd lean on Garnett to offer advice on how to handle the time away and keep himself from going crazy with his new team practicing just up the street.
"I will be talking with Joshua and other guys on the team," Thomas said. "Talking to the coaches as much as I can to learn as much as I can while I’m away, while I can’t be at the facility. So, I’m going to do whatever I can to just continue to learn and get better while I’m away, but still try my best to be here in some way.”
At the rookie minicamp, Thomas received his iPad playbook. He lined up at the team's "big" defensive end position on the strong side, and it is natural spot for him after playing a similar position for the Cardinal. Thomas also said he planned to talk to the strength-and-conditioning staff about whether he needed to add or subtract weight and come up with a workout plan for his time away.
While he's away, Thomas said he will be sure to study as much as possible and gather information however he can. Although he can't attend the offseason activities other than the rookie minicamp, he can spend time on the phone with coaches.
Whether Thomas' absence prevents him from starting from day one is the least of his concerns at this point.
“You know, coming in you have to earn your stripes," Thomas said. "I can’t come in here and say I’m just going to start right away. I have to work with the guys, get to know my teammates, become a great teammate, become a great practice player and just earn my stripes as I go on and keep working and working until I can say I can get there.”