When Paul Alexander worked with Andrew Thomas in the months before the NFL Draft, he was impressed with the young tackle’s technique. He had worked with some great ones in his long career as an NFL offensive line coach, so he could see why so many thought Thomas would be an instant success in the pros.
That’s why what Alexander saw on Thursday night, when he watched his former pupil in person with the Giants in Philadelphia, was such an unpleasant surprise.
“I was mad,” Alexander told SNY. “I could not believe what I was seeing.”
What he saw from the rookie left tackle was unlike anything he had seen from Thomas during their pre-draft training, or on film from his stellar career at Georgia. The 21-year-old’s smooth technique was gone. He had fallen into some awful habits with his hands and his feet. He was doing the things that Alexander used to coach NFL linemen not to do.
“I’m going to be candid here, because I’m really upset for Andrew on this,” Alexander said. “What I saw (Thursday) night, I see completely different techniques than he used at Georgia. I don’t see his feet getting set. And I see his hands bouncing all over the place, like he’s punching a guy like a machine gun or something.
“When he was at Georgia, he controlled guys with his hands. So I see something completely different than I saw at Georgia. And my question is: Why are you doing different things than you did? I mean, he was the best tackle in the country. And right now it’s like, ‘Oh my God!’”
It definitely has felt that way through the disappointing start to Thomas’ career. He has struggled through his first seven games, surrendering an alarming 37 pressures and six sacks, according to Pro Football Focus. He’s been a huge part of the continued problems along the Giants' offensive line.
It’s not unusual for a rookie lineman to struggle, of course. But so far, the other four tackles who went in the first round of the draft -- Mekhi Becton (Jets), Tristan Wirfs (Tampa Bay), Jedrick Wills (Cleveland) and Austin Jackson (Miami) -- have all performed much better than Thomas. And that’s unexpected since many scouts believed Thomas was the most NFL-ready of them all.
“Yeah, because he knew these techniques,” Alexander said.
So what’s happened to Thomas’ technique?
“You could probably ask him that question and he’ll say ‘Oh, it’s not that different.’ But trust me, it’s different,” Alexander said. “If I were coaching Andrew, I would put on his college tape and watch it and say. ‘Do that.’”
The technique issue is a matter of control -- specifically controlling the pass rusher, Alexander said. He spent 24 years as an offensive line coach with the Cincinnati Bengals (1994-2017) after two years as the Jets' tight ends coach, and he taught some tremendous tackles -- Andrew Whitworth, Willie Anderson, Richmond Webb. All of them controlled their feet and hands to better control the defender.
It’s the same controlled technique that Thomas used in college, and the same that all of the top tackles in the NFL use today.
“Those guys don’t shoot their hands like machine guns. None of them,” Alexander said. “All those guys do the exact same techniques that Andrew did at Georgia, where they control the rushers with their hands. They use grab techniques. That’s what they use.
“So I see this big, powerful, massive, athletic man trying to shoot his hands like machine guns and chopping his feet like he’s stepping over tires and I was watching it (Thursday) and I could not believe what I was seeing.”
Alexander said he hasn’t spoken to Thomas, so he’s not sure why any of this has happened. He doesn’t know if Giants offensive line coach Marc Colombo is teaching Thomas to do things differently, or if the rookie has fallen into bad habits on his own.
He’s hoping, though, that Thomas will hear his critique and remember all the good things he used to do consistently -- things that led to his success in college and that Alexander is sure will make Thomas successful in the pros. Because right now what he’s doing clearly isn’t working.
And Alexander doesn’t understand how it all went so wrong, so fast.
“How many times have you seen him just keep sliding his feet past the guy and then the guy beating him inside?” Alexander said. “Which is weird. He never did that. When I say he never did that -- he never did.
“I’ll tell you the truth, a lot of guys come from college and they’ve got the choppy feet and the machine gun punching hands, and when they get to the pros we teach them not to do that. But this is a different deal. This is a guy who actually knew how to do it, and he’s going back to techniques and things he never did.
“I mean, it’s mind-boggling to me.”