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Banks' Shots (cont.)

Posted: Tuesday September 26, 2006 1:12PM; Updated: Tuesday September 26, 2006 2:45PM
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Thomas, a seventh-year veteran who went to the Pro Bowl in 2003 as a special-teams standout, has embraced his versatility and loves the challenge of lining up in so many spots.

"Physically handling it isn't the hardest part,'' he said. "It's the mental aspect, with the different calls and checks. Sometimes I say, 'Hey, Rex, that's enough.' But it's exciting. I'm never bored. It's kind of become my comfort zone, going from one position to another. Am I the only linebacker in the league who can do it physically? Probably not. Am I the only linebacker in the league who can do it mentally? Probably so, and that's what I pride myself on, my mental preparation.

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"I may go to corner for a snap, I may go to safety. I may close the middle of the field, or just drop down in my defensive stance on the line. I may be blitzing for a play or two as a rush linebacker. I don't think there's too much more left to do. I'm always a linebacker, but I'm a linebacker with different types of responsibilities.''

Like guarding Chad Johnson, who could scarcely believe his eyes that anyone going 270 pounds and wearing a number 96 jersey could be asked to cover him.

"I had him a couple times man-to-man, with help over the top,'' Thomas said. "We were messing with each other. He tried to crack on me one time and I was like, 'Oh, was that you?' He said, 'Dog, don't do that to me.' A lot of receivers see me and say, 'What are you doing out here? What are you doing downfield?' You just kind of get used to hearing it.''

In a league known for its copycat ways, will Thomas' role be duplicated in other NFL cities? "They better have a guy who's smart and can do multiple things, that's for sure,'' Ryan said. "As many spots as he plays, I'm glad it's not my problem how to figure out how to pay him."

Thomas has a novel approach to the dilemma of how he should be paid. "We're going to just average up the top five at every position and get it done from there,'' he said, laughing. "Think they'll go for that?''

Around the NFL

• Watching the Saints improve to 3-0 in their Superdome homecoming, I got the distinct feeling the Atlanta Falcons were playing the role of the Washington Generals on Monday night. All that was missing was the bucket of confetti that the Globetrotters' Meadowlark Lemon used to pour over the referee's head.

With the karma the Saints had going for them, it almost looked foreordained that they were going to win that game and give their long-suffering community a triumphant night to remember. Reading the face of Falcons head coach Jim Mora on the sideline, I think early on he knew it, too.

• Has anyone had a tougher first few weeks of the season than Falcons kicking specialist Michael Koenen? Slated to handle punting, placements and kickoffs for the Falcons, he lost his field goal kicking duties to Morten Andersen after hitting only two of eight in the season's first two weeks. Then Monday night he had his first punt of the game blocked and returned for a touchdown by the Saints. Andersen later had a 25-yard field goal attempt blocked.

• Come to think of it, if anyone has had a rougher start to 2006 than Koenen, it might be Falcons special-teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis.

• Now I understand the plan at quarterback in Tennessee. A close game equals no Vince Young getting-his-feet-wet appearance in relief of Kerry Collins. It's a different story if the Titans are getting blown out. Which means for Tennessee fans, they should see Young more than they'd probably prefer.

• If you're scoring at home, it's Javon Walker, Donte' Stallworth, Antonio Bryant, Keyshawn Johnson, Eric Moulds and Antwaan Randle El ahead of Terrell Owens thus far in terms of impact by headline-name receivers who changed teams this year.

• For what it's worth, if I were the Bucs, I'd pick up the phone and inquire about Brian Griese's availability in Chicago. You'd have to overpay the Bears to reacquire the former Tampa Bay starter, but it might be the Bucs' best option in lieu of Chris Simms' potentially season-ending injury.

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