Q. Is there any carryover effect from the way the team ended the 2005 season?
Thomas: “It was excitement at the end of the year last year when we got on a roll. It's exciting because we're way further along than we were last year learning the defense. In OTA days last year, it was a circus. There was a new scheme. Now, we're a step ahead. A big percentage of us know most of it. It makes it a lot easier. So you're learning where your help is, you're learning how to make yourself better. Knowing the defense, because it is a complicated defense, gives us a step ahead to where we were last year. That's really going to help us.”
Q. What are your impressions of Daunte Culpepper?
Thomas: “He's a great athlete. He's looked great in practice. And he's still got the deep ball. He hit us today on a deep ball. He was scrambling today. I looked at him when I came up to make the tackle. I wasn't going to tackle him because we don't have pads. But he's the first quarterback I would ever hit low because he outweighs me by 40 pounds. He's a big guy. He looks good out there. He's running around good. So he was a big pick-up for us.”
Q. What are your early impressions of Dom Capers?
Thomas: "Coach Capers has done a great job. He knows this defense. He's been around it for years, really ages. I think that's really going to help us a lot. He's helping out. It's more knowledge from another coach. I like to hear what he has to say about my play. When you have so many different coaches, you can pick something off of every one of them to make yourself a better player. With this defense, we're looking at last year, seeing what worked, what didn't. How we can make it better? And we're adding some things, which last year we couldn't do because they were throwing so much at us. He has his own little wrinkles. He's been coaching some great defenses in the past, so it's only going to help us have a great coach like that.”
Q. How is your shoulder feeling?
Thomas: “It's always going to be an emphasis. Right now, only over the head is a problem. But you don't really play over the head playing football or even tackling. I feel really good. They're holding me out of contact drills right now, but it's not even September. We've got a lot of time. I'm going to take my time with it and be smart. But I feel great.”
Q. Do you get the feeling you guys will be playing more 3-4 defense next season?
Thomas: “I'm not sure. I think we're trying to get that way. But we've got a lot of mix-up defenses. We threw a couple teams off last year when they were preparing for the 3-4 the whole time. So later in the game, we went to the 4-3. It definitely helps to have both. It makes them think a lot more.”
Q. At what point last season did you get totally comfortable with the defense?
Thomas: “I don't think I was 100 percent comfortable. I starting figuring out the philosophy of it and how it's supposed to work. When everybody is on the same page, it can be a great defense. It showed at the end of the season when we started playing better. Earlier in the season, we shot ourselves in the foot a few times. It was busted coverages. But when everybody gets on the same page, to know where your help and know the defense, it can be a great defense. It is a great scheme.”
Q. Have you given any thought to the 2006 schedule, or is it too early for that?
Thomas: “It's way too early. The teams change so much during the year. You could look at it from last year and say, 'We could win this one and we could win this one and this one will be close.' But you can't look at it that way, because teams are so different from year to year. No one thought Cincinnati was going to be a great team going into last year. It just shows with San Diego and things like that. It doesn't matter right now because the way free agency is and the pick-ups and the teams are battling to see about their health, so you really don't know if a team is going to be a pushover.”
Q. What are you early impressions of new linebackers Sedrick Hodge and Keith Newman?
Thomas: “I remember Keith back in the day at Buffalo. I don't remember him much from Minnesota. But I remember he always abused us coming off that edge. That's a great pick-up there. And Sedrick, I haven't seen play much. Without pads, I don't know yet. But he's getting comfortable. It's good to have guys like that coming in. Keith is a beast coming off that edge. I was having flashbacks. I just remember he always got off against us. I just remember Keith.”
Q. How important is it to have that edge rusher at linebacker opposite Jason Taylor?
Thomas: “It's real important. It makes it easier on them because JT is usually getting the double teams. I'm sure they aren't going to slide to Keith because of JT, but Donnie (Spragan) is even getting better as a rush guy.”