Ever since the season began, the question from Washington Redskins fans has been the same: "Why are we putting Joey Galloway and Roydell Williams on the field!? We have Devin Thomas on the roster? Why can't he just get on the field and show what he has?"
It's the kind of question that seemingly has been answered time and time again. Kyle Shanahan, the team's offensive coordinator, said that Thomas needed to "practice more like a professional."
Wide receivers coach Keenan McCardell echoed the sentiment, saying that Devin Thomas needed to play with urgency during practice. Head coach Mike Shanahan has said on his coaches show that when Devin Thomas showed up on the practice field, he would earn himself more playing time.
Mouthing off to the ravenous DC sports media about his lack of playing time certainly didn’t help matters.
Earning playing time has been something that hasn't been seen on this squad for a long time. Redskins fans who were already panicked about the switch to a 3-4 defense became even more so when it appeared Albert Haynesworth wasn't getting his "fair share" of playing time.
The mantra was still the same—when Albert practiced hard and played hard and played with urgency, he would begin to get more playing time. Haynesworth didn't do that in the preseason or through the first two games.
It seems Albert Haynesworth has finally turned the corner, though. Before the Rams game, Coach Shanahan and players said the Albert had the best practice they'd seen him have in a long time.
He played well against the Rams (despite the loss), and a brilliant game against the Philadelphia Eagles, in which he was consistently causing pressure and forced two holding calls. And how was Albert Haynesworth rewarded?
With more playing time.
Devin Thomas had something of a weird journey to the NFL. In his freshman year, he played for Coffeyville Community College, where he redshirted. In his sophomore year at Michigan State, he only managed six catches.
His best year came during his junior campaign, where he had 79 receptions (a Michigan State record) for 1,260 yards. After that offensive explosion, Thomas decided to forgo his senior year and declare himself eligible for the 2008 NFL Draft.
It was a risky choice to pick someone in the second round of the draft who only had one year of solid production under their belt. It seems even riskier in light of the wide receivers who were also in that draft—DeSean Jackson, Eddie Royal and Mario Manningham were all taken after Devin Thomas in the draft, despite having better numbers and overall production in every year of their college tenures.
Though arguably the weirder choice would turn out to be Malcolm Kelly, Devin Thomas was still something of a shock.
Then again, Vinny Cerrato was always about the flashy choice over the right choice.
In Devin's first two years, he didn't do very much. Despite a struggling offense that was looking for a spark, Devin Thomas mainly saw time returning kick offs and playing special teams.
In his rookie season, Thomas managed only 15 receptions for 120 yards and no touchdowns. (Though he did rush for a touchdown that season). In his second year, he did only slightly better, managing 25 receptions for 325 yards and three touchdowns.
His first 100-yard game was in a meaningless loss to the undefeated New Orleans Saints, who were resting their starting cornerbacks. (It was also in the game he got two of his three touchdowns for the whole season.)
Clearly, if Jim "Staying Medium" Zorn didn't see something in Devin Thomas, it would be even harder for Thomas to impress two-time Super Bowl-winning head coach Mike Shanahan.
With many of the starting receivers traded away or left to drift off in free agency, some thought it was only a matter of time until Devin Thomas climbed to his "rightful" place atop the depth chart.
That has not been the case. Instead, Devin Thomas found himself competing for playing time against Roydell Williams (who missed all of the 2008 season after having a career 2007 season) and 16-year veteran (and 39-year-old) Joey Galloway. To some fans, this seemed to be an outrage.
"Why not just let Devin play in a game?" some asked. "Let him catch some balls from Donovan McNabb in a game and see what he can do."
The thought process seems fundamentally flawed. For all intents and purposes, Donovan McNabb has thrown Devin Thomas plenty of passes. In practices.
That's what it all comes down to for the Mike Shanahan-coached Washington Redskins—show improvement, play hard, run hard, and above all else, succeed during practices, and you earn yourself playing time.
This has been true of upstart, diminutive wide receiver Brandon Banks and new starting running back Ryan Torain, as well as the veteran Albert Haynesworth. Show what you have at practice, and you'll get the playing time that you so desire.
Love it or hate it, a game-time situation is not the point at which you want to "try someone out." Devin Thomas had his chance against the ones in preseason, in which he ran sloppy routes and dropped balls delivered to him by who else but Donovan McNabb.
He may have scored a touchdown, but his preseason in general was pretty mediocre. This is in contrast to 27-year-old Anthony Armstrong, who came into the preseason having been shuffled around practice squads and showed up big time, making several big plays, running consistent routes, and developing chemistry and trust with the team's new franchise quarterback.
Anthony Armstrong proved he was the better pick over Devin Thomas in this week’s overtime win versus the Green Bay Packers, as No. 13 came through with a crucial touchdown that helped the Redskins get back into the game.
What's my overall point?
The point is that Devin Thomas has had multiple chances to convince multiple coaching staffs that he's capable of starting on an NFL football team. While it's always sad to see a guy with such potential fail, one has to consider that maybe it's only potential. While potential can do a lot, it can't win you football games.
There's a large difference between Devin Thomas running a bad route in preseason leading to an interception (a la what happened in the preseason game versus Arizona) and a running a bad route against a in a regular season football game, where wins are hard to come by, harder still when installing new schemes and systems on both sides of the ball.
Mike Shanahan won two Super Bowls with late-round draft picks, undrafted free agents and castaway players from other teams. He wanted dependability from his team. In Santana Moss, Joey Galloway, Roydell Williams, Anthony Armstrong, Chris Cooley, Fred Davis and even Brandon Banks, he has that dependability.
Devin Thomas had his chance, and it's a testament to his abilities (or maybe lack thereof) that the Washington Redskins couldn't trade him to another football team for even a late draft round pick.
It's not the end of the world for the Redskins. Chad Simpson did a great job returning kicks for the Colts and can fill Devin Thomas' role on special teams. Donovan McNabb has shown that he can spray the ball around and has shown that he trust Anthony Armstrong and Joey Galloway to make a play on the deep ball.
Brandon Banks brings explosiveness and speed (and perhaps even a fix to his fumbling problems) to the punt return game (and possibly the kick return game if Sunday’s game was any indication), and Ryan Torain seems like he could be an answer to the teams problems at running back.
The Redskins will be fine with or without Devin Thomas. They HAVE been OK without Devin Thomas.
As for Devin himself, perhaps he can catch on with a team that needs help at wide receiver. Could releasing him possibly come back to bite the Redskins in the butt?
Yes, it's possible. Is it likely? Based on the past two years in Washington, all signs seem to point to no.
Time to wish Devin Thomas well in his future endeavors in the black and blue of the Carolina Panthers.
Maybe Fantasia will feature him in another music video to help him out.