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Thomas' do-everything ability is scary in hands of Belichick

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- It would seem to be a match forged in football heaven. A whirling dervish defender more destructive than a Vegematic, joining the consummate Inspector Gadget coach preparing to conjure up devilish methods for tormenting NFL offensive coordinators.

The former, seven-year veteran Adalius Thomas, is nominally a linebacker, but played eight different positions for the Ravens, including cornerback, after becoming a starter three years ago. The latter is Patriots coach and future Hall of Famer Bill Belichick, the man who all but created the concept of the hybrid linebacker.

Of all the unrestricted free-agent acquisitions this spring, the migration of Thomas to New England seems the most optimum fit and the best outlay of big bucks. The Patriots, despite Belichick's fertile imagination, haven't employed a defender with double-digit sacks since 1995. Thomas, with 20 sacks over the past two seasons and 28 in his three years as a starter, seems a prime candidate to restore the edginess to the New England pass rush off the edge.

Yet for all the anticipation about the endless alignment possibilities the marriage of Belichick and Thomas seemed to possess, there was Thomas last week aligned in about the most mundane of spots for New England's mandatory three-day minicamp: strong inside linebacker.

Thomas, who defected from the Ravens to the Patriots for a five-year, $35.04 million contract that includes a $12 million signing bonus, was not overly concerned about manning the strong inside linebacker position (known as the "Mike" linebacker) in New England's base 3-4 alignment. And he certainly was not debating the decision -- which is subject to change -- to play him at a spot defined more by grit than glamour.

"Given what that man [Belichick] has accomplished on defense, and what he's done with his linebackers, man, I'm not going to question anything," Thomas said. "When he points, I go, that's it. No questions asked. None at all."

There is no question that, as much as any coach in the league, Belichick uses springtime football to mix and match components. For all the complex plotting done in his laboratory, the basics of minicamps and organized team activities sessions revolve around the basic tenets that serve as the bedrock philosophies of the mad scientist.

Belichick views minicamp as a teaching and learning experience, in which the assimilation of doing things the right way supersedes performance. And learning to do things the Patriots' way characteristically entails learning a lot of different positions. Which is, in part, why Thomas spent most of his time last week at inside linebacker.

"Adalius is a very flexible player and he, along, really, with all our linebackers … is pretty, pretty versatile, and we shuffle them around quite a bit," Belichick said. "I think it helps them understand how the whole thing fits together, because they actually play all of those different positions, and it gives them some depth and versatility in the different packages. Adalius has a lot of experience doing different things, and we're looking at him doing those different things, and seeing how it goes."

Using Thomas at inside linebacker, where stuffing the run takes precedence over sacking the quarterback, was at least mildly surprising. The Mike position is more utilitarian than spectacular, and possesses less potential for the kinds of game-altering plays for which Thomas has become known.

In his three seasons as a starter, Thomas, who made the Pro Bowl as a special teams player in 2003 and as a linebacker last year, has averaged 89.3 tackles and registered 28 sacks, four interceptions, 13 passes defensed, eight forced fumbles and four recoveries. Those numbers graphically portray his big-play potential. In 2005, he became the first Baltimore defender to score three touchdowns in a season.

But the New England staff has struggled to fill the strong inside spot since the retirement of Ted Johnson after the 2004 season. That deficiency has meant a cut-and-paste approach at the two inside linebacker positions in general the last couple of years. They've brought in stopgap veterans such as Chad Brown and Monty Beisel, neither of whom was a good fit. They've played untested young veterans such as Eric Alexander. Or they've moved around standout veterans Mike Vrabel and Tedy Bruschi.

If Thomas stays at his current position, and that remains a big if at this juncture of the offseason, there will be a stabilizing effect on the rest of the linebacker corps. Vrabel would be allowed to play outside, where his versatility is a strength, and Bruschi, physically overwhelmed at times at the Mike position, could align at the weak (or "Jack") inside spot, where he is better suited.

No one anticipates, though, Thomas' lining up exclusively inside. That was clear at times in minicamp, especially in nickel situations, when he moved to end to take advantage of his pass-rush prowess.

There is little doubt Thomas is about as close to a perfect fit for that hybrid role, and for Belichick and the rest of the New England staff. There is even less doubt that with Belichick plotting ways to use his new weapon, a perfect storm could be brewing on defense.

"This has always been a defense that's kind of been built around the linebackers, around their versatility," free safety Eugene Wilson said. "And with [Thomas], you're talking about one of the most versatile, all-around players in the game, at any position, period. The man is a jack of all trades, but he has definitely mastered more than one of them. So you know the bag of tricks is going to get a little deeper, right?"

So despite the fairly ordinary start to his New England tenure, expect that Thomas will be moving all over the place. No Patriots fan need fret that Thomas won't have ample opportunities to make plays.

"It's what I do," Thomas said after last Tuesday's practice.

One can't fully appreciate the size of Thomas until standing next to him. He appears to be even more monstrous than the dimensions listed (6-foot-2, 270 pounds) on the roster. And no one can fathom just how athletic he is until watching him trot out his entire repertoire -- stopping the run, dumping the quarterback, dropping into coverage. If possible, Belichick will find a way to further enhance his skills.

Said one veteran New England defender: "It's like Bill has a new toy."

A toy who has quickly found a place in the New England galaxy of stars, and who certainly will carve out an even bigger berth.

Perhaps the most notable thing about Thomas at last week's minicamp was his understated nature. In the Baltimore locker room, not exactly a place for shrinking violets given the high-profile characters who reside there, Thomas was outspoken. He was tame last week, an indication that he is already in lockstep with the Belichick philosophy, which preaches that the sum effort is always more important that the individual's role.

"I'm just trying to be like a finger," Thomas said. "I'm not trying to be like a thumb."

By the time the season starts, after Belichick has had three more months to lock himself in the lab and concoct a bunch of new formulas, Thomas will likely be a handful.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer at ESPN.com.