NEW ORLEANS — Chase Thomas sat at his family’s Georgia home the last weekend of April, expecting the phone to ring anytime from 8 p.m. Thursday until about 4 p.m. Saturday.
The watched the NFL draft and watched the phone, waiting for it to pulse or buzz.
“I tried not to watch it,” Thomas said. “I tried to move around. I played ping pong. I sat on the deck while we grilled some food. At one point I just had to leave the house.”
The phone never rang and the standout Stanford linebacker had to reassess the situation.
“I gotta say I was pretty surprised, shocked, disappointed,” Thomas said. “At the same time, everything happens for a reason. I feel blessed to be a part of the Saints organization and given this opportunity to play for the Saints.”
The Saints, meanwhile, are likely happy they had the opportunity to nab Thomas, ranked as the 10th-best outside linebacker according to NFLDraftScout.com, a CBSSports.com affiliate website.
Thomas (6-foot-3, 241 pounds) finished his time in California having accounted for 27½ sacks to go with nine forced fumbles. And according to his NFL-released draft bio, quarterbacks completed only 16.4 percent of passed thrown his way.
He finished with 229 career tackles, 50½ tackles for loss, 21 quarterback pressures and eight pass breakups.
That he was passed over will only serve to make him stronger, he thinks.
“I guess it does serve as a little more extra motivation,” Thomas said. “You have to work that much harder. But at the same time, I’ve always been a dedicated football player day in, day out. It’s not going to change too much but I may play with that chip on the shoulder, as they say.”
The 23-year-old isn’t lacking for confidence.
Beginning this weekend, Thomas will be part of the Saints’ annual rookie mini-camp. Five practices in three days that begin to acclimate rookies to the NFL life. And Thomas thinks it’ll be the beginning of a battle that will ultimately end with him sticking on the roster as an undrafted rookie free agent.
“I felt like this was definitely one of the better opportunities to make a team,” Thomas said. “I’ll work just as hard as I would if I went to a team that had a bunch of linebackers. That’s not going to change anything. I do feel confident that I will make the team.”
Thomas fielded calls from Green Bay, Houston and Arizona before deciding – after talking with new Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan – that New Orleans was the spot for him.
Thomas said Ryan mentioned his versatility is what attracted the Saints into vying for him. At Stanford, Thomas played in a variety of places on the field, blitzing from “different areas” to keep opponents guessing. Ryan, Thomas said, told him he would be used similarly with New Orleans.
“We talked about how he’d use me and all the different complicated defense he has and how he needs some smart linebackers,” Thomas said. “Not that they don’t have any smart linebackers, but he was saying I could add on to that list as a smart linebacker who understands the defense and can pick it up pretty fast and has played in a 3-4 defense before.”