In preseason finale, Eagles get a strong push from Dallas Thomas | Marcus Hayes
The veteran lineman recalled unlikely star Chad Lewis in the Eagles' preseason finale.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Nobody knows their names. Their numbers don't correspond with any relevant accomplishments. The handful of fans in the stands wouldn't recognize most of them on the street. The men who play in the last NFL preseason game personify anonymity.
This is not as true of other sports. The last game of spring training and the last preseason games in the NBA can be the culmination of something.
Preseason finales in the NFL are something less: the ugliest ducklings of exhibitions in all of professional sports. No starters play. Often, no valuable backups play.
Nobody who doesn't have a tattoo of the team really cares.
The games do have a measure of value, however. They might unearth a gem or maybe highlight a retread. It might be an afterthought, an undrafted rookie, or a guy snagged from someone else's practice squad. It may be an older player who has been revitalized; maybe a player who won't fit on a cramped roster. A player like, say, offensive lineman Dallas Thomas.
Dallas who? Exactly. Hang in there for a minute.
The Eagles expected veteran Jimmie Johnson to occupy their starting tight-end spot, but they hoped Jason Dunn would replace him sooner than later. In 1996, they spent a second-round pick on Dunn, a 6-foot-4, 257-pound sculpted Adonis with fine speed — who turned out to be as fragile as he was hardhanded. In 1997, they already had an inkling that Dunn might be a bust, so they used a fifth-round pick on Luther Broughton, an athletic pass-catcher.
The Eagles also signed an undrafted rookie out of Brigham Young, so slim he looked more like a small forward and so old he could rent a car. Because he had served his Mormon mission while in college, Chad Lewis was 25 when he took the field at Veterans Stadium in the preseason finale against the Patriots. To that point, Lewis had two catches.
By the end of the night, Lewis had four more. The Eagles kept four tight ends. Smart move.
From that day on Johnson, Dunn, and Broughton combined for 143 catches and 17 touchdowns.
Lewis caught 229 passes and 23 touchdowns and went to three Pro Bowls.
Fast-forward two decades.
Thomas' case isn't exactly the same. Unlike Lewis, Thomas has a bit of pedigree; he was a third-round pick by the Dolphins in 2013, 6-foot-5 and 315-pounds, big and athletic enough to play either guard or tackle. He started 16 games at left guard for the Dolphins in 2015. Last season, though, rookie head coach Adam Gase cut Thomas in October, which put Thomas in a bad spot. Given his mandatory pay (his minimum $775,000 salary would be 40 percent more than that of a rookie) and his recent play, Thomas was an unattractive NFL investment.
Two years ago, Thomas was too important play in the preseason finale. Last year, he was important enough to play just one series.
The Eagles signed him in January as roster fodder, unlikely to make it to the preseason finale. Thursday night, he started the preseason finale with the backups.
"I started at the bottom, and I moved up to the 2's and worked myself all the way up," Thomas said. "I'd like to think I've put enough out there so they can trust me on the field."
Entering Thursday night's game, Thomas was still mired behind reserve linemen Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Stefen Wisniewski, Chance Warmack, and Dillon Gordon. They are either younger, better, or, possibly, both.
When cuts come down Saturday afternoon, the Eagles might be more inclined to keep an extra wideout or back than to keep a 10th lineman; the competitions for receiver and running back are much more intriguing.
Nonetheless, Thomas made a fine case for himself at MetLife Stadium.
He started at right guard and, on the offensive first play, opened a respectable hole that Corey Clement scampered through for 6 yards. Thomas then opened a gaping hole on the second play, and Clement rumbled for 8 more yards.
Quarterback Matt McGloin went mostly unmolested from his right side all night, and Thomas was brilliant. When McGloin was sacked and fumbled in the second quarter, it was Gordon, playing left tackle, who got beat, not Thomas.
During the two-minute drill in the second quarter, Thomas first blocked his man, then blocked a blitzer. It was nifty. He did that sort of thing all night.
At the beginning of the third quarter, Thomas got out in space on and blocked a linebacker. The runner, Byron Marshall, got tackled from behind for no gain — these are fourth- and fifth-string players, after all — but Thomas did his job.
"I felt like I played real good," Thomas said. "I played with confidence, I knew what I was doing. I played with confidence, and I did my best."
He did his job all night. The Eagles were watching. So were 31 other teams, just in case he's unemployed come Saturday night.
"I have the film. I have the experience," Thomas said. "I've improved my technique. It's unbelievable. It's night and day."
That's what preseason finales are for.
Just ask Chad Lewis.