For many NFL players, one of the most significant jumps comes between Year 1 and Year 2.
There are plenty of reasons for it. From a comfort standpoint, most rookies are just 21 or 22 years old and entering a high-stress, competitive workplace. Plus, through no fault of their own, these players are behind in learning the playbook because they don't get drafted until teams' offseason programs are well underway.
And so for someone like wide receiver Mike Thomas, there's a much different feel to his second OTAs.
"Honestly, just the experience — the experience of how players move, how players play on the field, how the game speed is," Thomas said on Tuesday. "I feel like I caught up with the tempo of practice and the game. And I'm just playing fast without thinking and just trying to seize every opportunity that comes my way."
With wide receiver Tavon Austin unable to fully participate in OTAs after undergoing surgery, Thomas has received more practice snaps. And he's taken advantage of them, having made a number of downfield and contested receptions. Head coach Sean McVay said this week he's been impressed with Thomas' speed.
"He's a competitive player," McVay said. "I think he's getting more and more confident with his hands and just becoming a more polished player — with just his routes and increasing that route versatility.
"You can feel him," McVay continued. "He's got some speed that gives you the ability to stretch the top-shelf of the defense and that's what he's done so far."
Thomas' specialty was being a downfield threat at Southern Miss, where he averaged 19.6 yards per reception and caught 14 touchdowns in his senior season. But as a sixth-round pick in the 2016 draft, Thomas was mainly a special teams contributor as a rookie, making only three receptions in his limited offensive snaps.
"Your rookie year is always a little hesitant coming off college — different speed, different tempo. You're playing with grown men now and that's a lot on this level," Thomas said. "So coming in for Year 2, like I said, you adapt to it. You know what to expect. You know how to prepare for games. You know how to prepare for practice and training camp. So it's only right that you come in confident knowing what to expect."
Thomas spent a lot of time working on his craft in the offseason, he said, catching plenty of balls and running numerous of routes. And the wideout trained with quarterback Jared Goff to improve their rapport.
"This offseason we connected well. We were doing a lot of routes together — throwing, catching, learning together," Thomas said. "At the end of the day, we both came in as rookies, and we're learning a new offense together, so it's only right that we all get better together."
Photos from Day 8 of the Los Angeles Rams organized team activities. Photos by Jeff Lewis.
ith a new playbook to learn, Thomas has been working with Goff to master it both on the field and in the classroom.
"We ask questions. I ask a lot of questions and when I have a question, I go right to Jared because at the end of the day he has to know it, too," Thomas said. "We've just been trying to get the chemistry to 100 percent."
What's likely aided in that process is the way McVay and his staff have installed the offense. Thomas said he feels like the unit has picked it up quickly and well, in part because everyone has a complete picture of the scheme.
"The way they're teaching it is incredible. Everybody's getting it fast," Thomas said. "It's all about concepts. And when you know what everybody else is doing on the field, it makes you play way faster because you know what I have at the end of the day, and what the tight end and the other receivers have."
Armed with that knowledge, Thomas has been working to take advantage of every opportunity during the offseason program. Given the way he's performed on the field, combined with the feedback from his coaches, Thomas has reason to be confident heading into Year 2.
"What we've seen from Mike has been good stuff and you really like his demeanor and his disposition," McVay said. "He's been a joy to be around so far."
"Now I know what to expect," Thomas said. "I adapted to it — to the speed of the game, practice — and I'm coming out strong and confident."