Ravens return specialist De’Anthony Thomas, who recently signed a one-year deal to return to Baltimore, says the organization made a lasting impression on him in 2019 and he is ready to contribute on the offensive side of the ball in 2020.
Thomas spent parts of the past six seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, but he was cut late last October amid a roster crunch. Thomas was drafted in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Chiefs, for whom Thomas played 61 games (eight starts) from 2014-2019. He averaged 8.8 yards per punt return and 24.5 yards per kick return throughout those six years.
The Ravens signed Thomas Nov. 5 to try to spark their return game, and he finished the season as the team’s returner. He averaged 7.2 yards per punt return and 16.6 yards per kick return during his eight games with Baltimore.
Thomas was immediately impressed with how the Ravens do business, from the coaches’ preparation to how the team practices to even how offensive linemen handle walkthroughs.
“They’re so dialed in. You can see when the games come, everybody’s on the same page making plays and that’s what gets our offense going,” Thomas said on Glenn Clark Radio March 16. “It makes the quarterback’s job easier. It makes the running back’s job easier and it makes the receiver’s job easier.
“And just seeing those linemen like Marshal Yanda, just a leader and going out there with that competitiveness, it was just amazing to be a part of that. That made me want to step my game up and work a little bit harder and just go out there and let them know that they could depend on me.”
Thomas is expected to face competition for the returner job during training camp. Should he make the team, Thomas hopes to make an impact on the offensive side of the ball in 2020. He had 65 catches and 509 yards and four touchdowns during his six years in Kansas City, and he was also used some as a runner; he had 31 carries for 191 yards and two scores.
Last year, Thomas had just one rushing attempt with the Ravens, which came against the Pittsburgh Steelers Dec. 29. Thomas thinks he’ll have a better grasp of the offense in 2020, thus giving him more chances to contribute.
“Last year, I came a little bit late, so it was tough to learn the offense and stuff like that,” Thomas said. “But now I feel like I have a better opportunity to learn the offense and just be able to play all over the field, whether it’s outside receiver, inside receiver, maybe even catching the ball out of the backfield. Wherever they need me to go or whatever plays they have for me, I’m going to go out there and just contribute and get us the win.”
To get more involved in the offense, Thomas will have to get on the same page as quarterback Lamar Jackson during training camp. Jackson threw for 3,127 yards and 36 touchdowns during his MVP campaign in 2019 while leading a historic rushing attack (3,296 yards, the best-ever single-season mark.)
Last year, Jackson often found tight ends Mark Andrews (64 catches), Hayden Hurst (30) and Nick Boyle (31) and receivers Marquise Brown (46), Willie Snead (31) and Seth Roberts (21). Hurst was traded to the Atlanta Falcons and Roberts reportedly signed with the Carolina Panthers, leaving some targets for other pass catchers.
Thomas was impressed with what he saw from Jackson in 2019, and he’s looking forward to what’s to come in 2020.
“His mindset is different. He’s just got that killer instinct in him. He’s just so laid back. You would never know what his mind’s thinking, but he’s going out there to kill every game, every play — even in practice,” Thomas said. “He just brings that same energy. It’s just amazing just to see him grow throughout those weeks I was there. Even now, I feel like he’s more confident, more comfortable. It’s just going to be very exciting to watch.”
Perhaps Jackson will be as exciting to watch as Thomas was as a young football player growing up in Los Angeles. Thomas played in the Snoop Youth Football League, Snoop Dogg’s nonprofit organization designed to give inner-city kids a chance to play football. Thomas, who played for the Greater Crenshaw Bears, got a chance to meet Snoop Dogg after a blowout win when he was 12 years old.
“After the game was over — and Snoop used to commentate the games, so he was the commentator and watched us play — and after the game, he came up to me,” Thomas said. “He said, ‘Man, what’s your name?’ I said, ‘My name is De’Anthony Thomas.’ He said, ‘Man, you move like the Black Mamba.’ That’s how the Black Mamba name got established to me and it’s stayed with me until now.”
Black Mamba, of course, was referring to basketball legend Kobe Bryant, who led the Los Angeles Lakers to five championships and finished fourth all time in scoring (33,643 points). It’s a nickname that has stuck with Thomas, as his Twitter account would suggest, though Thomas spells his nickname “Black Momba.”
Bryant’s mentality toward preparation and competition is a source of inspiration for athletes and will continue to be long after his death.
“It’s just keeping that mindset and that positivity and keeping that competitive instinct,” Thomas said.
For more from Thomas, listen to the full interview here:
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