- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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Early in his career, Bryan Thomas used the tease the old guys on the team, players like Vinny Testaverde, Mo Lewis and Marvin Jones. Now Thomas it getting is thrown back at him because he's the old guy -- 33 on June 7. He was drafted in 2002, making him the longest-tenured Jet.
And he doesn't mind the razzing one bit; the grizzled outside linebacker is just glad to be here. After tearing an Achilles' tendon last season in Week 4, Thomas wondered if he'd be back, especially since he was in the final year of his contract. But the Jets stepped up in March, signing him to a one-year, $990,000 contract, more than half of which is guaranteed.
"The organization has been wonderful," Thomas said last week during an open locker room. "For them to re-sign me in this situation, I was truly grateful. They could've said, 'Go.'"
Thomas said he was so down after the injury that it took him a few weeks before he started showing up to the locker room. As he said, "I didn't want the rest of the team to see me down ... That was a difficult time, really, really tough."
Thomas is one of those blue-collar guys that every team needs on defense. He sets the edge on running plays, takes on blockers so others can make plays, transitions easily between two- and three-point stances, slides inside on certain packages ... well, you get the idea. The Jets really missed him last season.
The question is, what can they expect out of him in 2012? The average recovery time is about nine months, which is right about now for Thomas. As of last week, he still wasn't running full speed, but his "No. 1 goal" is to be 100 percent by training camp in late July. His age could complicate matters; you don't see too many 33-year-old linebackers coming off Achilles-tendon surgery.
The Jets need him, no doubt. Their only proven, every-down outside linebacker is Calvin Pace. Pass-rushing specialist Aaron Maybin hopes to develop into that kind of player, but he's not big enough to hold up against the run -- even after gaining a few pounds. Thomas can have his old job back ... if he's up to it.
3dField Yates and Rich Cimini