A combination of warm weather and familiar faces had rookie defensive end Chad Thomas feeling at home.
On the first day of the Browns’ rookie minicamp, Thomas -- a Miami native who stayed home to play for the Hurricanes -- was comfortable in his new surroundings on a pleasant, spring afternoon in Northeast Ohio. It also helped to reunite with former teammates like Duke Johnson Jr., David Njoku and a handful of South Florida natives who dot the team’s young roster.
“There's a bunch of people here,” he said, laughing, “we’ve got a little bit of Miami here.”
Thomas, a third-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, is expected to join a defensive line rotation that already includes Myles Garrett, Emmanuel Ogbah and Larry Ogunjobi. In what’s been an effort to load Cleveland's offensive and defensive lines with talent, he’s the fifth defensive lineman drafted by the Browns in the past three years (and all five have been taken within the first three rounds).
“We thought that Chad — at 6-foot-5, 275 pounds — was one of the most physical defensive linemen in the draft. We think his run defense will play immediately in the NFL as a left end in our system,” vice president of player personnel Andrew Berry said shortly after the pick. “He can kick down inside and rush the passer from inside, as well. We’re really excited to add him to the team and think his best football is in front of him.”
A former five-star recruit out of Miami’s Booker T. Washington High School, a powerhouse in the state of Florida, Thomas earned a starting role on the Hurricanes’ defense as a sophomore and posted 10 sacks and 23.5 tackles-for-loss in his final two seasons.
While much has been made about his remarkable off-field talent — he can play nine musical instruments and has doubled as a producer for hip hop superstar/Miami native Rick Ross — Thomas has made clear he’s all football these days.
It’s also taken him a lot to get to this point. Thomas didn't start playing youth football until he was 12 years old because of a heart murmur, having to convince his parents to allow him to participate. Once medically cleared, Thomas in 2014 told the Miami Herald he has “so much passion” for football that he often cries before games.
When Thomas was still on the board on Day 2 of the draft, the Browns didn’t wait long to pounce. “We think he’s a guy that can contribute right away. Realistically, he’s going to have to earn every opportunity and earn every snap just like every guy that we bring in, but we think he is a very talented, strong, athletic defensive linemen that can play in multiple spots along our front,” Berry said.
“He’s a player when we talk about setting the edge or keeping contained in the run-game, he can really put on a clinic tape of being able to do that at one of the end spots. He is just a strong, long, physical guy that uses his hands well.”
When Thomas and the Browns’ rookie class join their veteran teammates for OTAs next week, he’ll have the opportunity to put that on display. There’s also reason to believe he’ll do so feeling somewhat at home more than 1,000 miles north.
"I think I fell in love with Cleveland already,” he said.