Going into the 2023 season, the linebacker room with the Cleveland Browns hadn’t changed all that much. The year before was a season to forget with this room as almost every week another athlete would go down to some sort of injury.
Anthony Walker, JOK, Sione Takitaki, Jordan Kunaszyk, and Jacob Phillips landed on IR for various periods. At season’s end, the coaching staff was pulling guys off the street to play. Special teams ace Tony Fields was thrust into service and played well. The team made a trade for Deion Jones, brought back Tae Davis, and plucked Reggie Ragland and Jermaine Carter from the waiver wire.
Going into the 2023 training camp, GM Andrew Berry wanted some quality depth and brought into the fold special teams demon Matthew Adams, Cam Bright of the Seattle Seahawks, plus undrafted rookie free agents Charlie Thomas III of Georgia Tech and Utah’s Mohamoud Diabate.
Thomas was a Two-time All-State and Two-time All-District safety at Thomasville (Georgia) High School. He was also a member of the National Honor Society so intelligence was part of his playing style.
A lot of colleges offered him a scholarship including Auburn, Ole Miss, Georgia Tech, Cincinnati, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, Indiana, Missouri, Georgia State, Western Kentucky, Colorado State, Florida State, South Alabama, Tulane, and Troy.
Having run the 40 in 4.6, defensive coordinators were salivating over his talents. He was known as a sure tackler who had no issues supporting the run. As he made his official visits, when he stepped onto the Georgia Tech campus, he thought it felt right at the time.
It was while at Georgia Tech that he was moved from safety to linebacker to use his tackling skills and speed.
Thomas made six starts as a true freshman and played in all 10 games. In the next two seasons, he tallied seven starts but played in every game.
In his junior year, he made eight starts at linebacker and was named Honorable Mention All-ACC. For his senior year, now his fifth season because of COVID, he started every game with 112 tackles, two sacks, 10.5 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and two interceptions. For his efforts, he was named Third Team All-ACC.
In his college career, Thomas recorded 313 tackles (37 being for a loss), seven forced fumbles, six fumble recoveries, 10 sacks, four interceptions, and five pass deflections. In his pre-draft measurables, he bettered his 40 time to 4.52.
Seeking some younger linebacker help, the Browns signed him as an undrafted free agent shortly after the completion of the NFL draft.
As evidenced by his senior year, Thomas developed into a playmaker and was one of the most important players on the Georgia Tech roster, let alone the defense. 112 total tackles are a lot of production for one season.
He graduated from Georgia Tech in December 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. Thomas has plans for graduate studies in history, technology, and society as well as graduate school to pursue an MBA after football.
Thomas’ career stats include 313 total tackles, 10 sacks, five batted passes, four picks, 37 tackles for loss, seven forced fumbles, and six fumble recoveries.
Because of his size at just 216 pounds, most draftniks were skeptical about him being an effective outside linebacker. What remains is that he is good in coverage and will hit guys, so basically had all the traits of the other linebackers on the Browns’ roster. He was a last-day cutdown after training camp.
Thomas (6’-3”, 216 pounds) was then added to the practice squad. He would eventually be elevated for four games during the 2023 season: Week 6 (Colts), Weeks 14-15 (Bears/Texans), and Week 17 (Bengals). He finished the season with 40 snaps. On January 15, the Browns inked him to a reserve/future contract.
Whether a player is on the practice squad of a team whose season is now over, they are free to sign with any NFL team for the following year. But since rosters are locked when a team season is over, these players sign a type of agreement, called a reserve/future contract. Each of these players does not count on the salary cap or roster count until the beginning of the league year. Once a player signs one of these contracts, they are on the NFL’s Reserve/Future List and are not free to negotiate with other teams as they are under contract even though the league year has not kicked in.
A glance at the Browns linebacker room reveals a potential issue. Sione Takitaki, Anthony Walker, Matthew Adams, Jacob Phillips, and Jordan Kunaszyk are all free agents. This means GM Andrew Berry has until March 13 to offer extensions, or each of these players can then sign with any team of their choosing.
That only leaves Tony Fields, Mohamoud Diabate, JOK, and Thomas as the only linebackers on the roster under contract.
His Twitter handle is @L3G3ND_25 and his Instagram is @charlie_thomas.
Dawgs By Nature caught up with the young linebacker to find out how to cover a larger tight end, what it’s like being a rookie in a veteran-dominated room, and if he has any political aspirations.
DBN: Coming out of high school you had a lot of college offers. How did you decide on Georgia Tech?
Thomas: I felt like that was a bad decision. I should have taken more time with the recruitment process. I did get out of my time there with what I needed, but I didn’t really build a relationship with the coaches.
DBN: You were named Two Time All-State at safety in high school. Yet at Georgia Tech they moved you to linebacker. What are the main differences in playing both positions?
Thomas: When I got to Georgia Tech we had a pretty good safety room and good athletes there. I wanted to be one of the best players on the field and didn’t see myself playing that much. The main difference is having time to diagnose. At linebacker it’s instant. And you have to have the leverage set in order to read and react.
DBN: In your senior season, you had 112 tackles. How do you describe your tackling skills?
Thomas: I feel like I get guys on the ground. I am not saying I am perfect every time, but I feel I am a good tackler.
Charlie Thomas has agreed to a UDFA deal with the Browns, according to a person familiar with the situation.— Ken Sugiura (@ksugiuraajc) April 29, 2023
DBN: Several NFL teams called you after the draft. Why did you choose the Browns?
Thomas: The Browns were a perfect opportunity. You got guys that are emulating my skill set and it’s obvious it translates. It was just a good fit for me.
DBN: What was the hardest part of training camp?
Thomas: Just figuring out the language and the tempo. Football is simple. You are responsible for figuring out more schemes at this level. It was humbling but also exciting. You have to take it all in and enjoy the process.
DBN: DC Jim Schwartz rarely blitzes and requires his cornerbacks to play man. What is his vision for the linebackers?
Thomas: To be vocal and be able to communicate with everybody. Get on the same page. Locate the runner quickly, get to him, and make a good tackle. Mostly just be aggressive and make plays.
DBN: Being a rookie, did the veterans make you sing the Georgia Tech fight song or something worse?
Thomas: I didn’t have to sing the fight song. It is a pretty cool group of vets. Of course, we had to do our rookie duties and stuff like that. We had to get snacks, but wasn’t anything over the top. It was professionally done. We had the rookie dinner when we were in California when we played the Rams. We had a good time and wasn’t over the top at all. Nobody was ordering stuff and taking it with them like I have heard about. We paid over 5K, but there wasn’t any unnecessary stuff ordered.
DBN: Tell us one thing that veterans and rookies have in common.
Thomas: The cohesiveness of the unit and we play for each other. I just feel I want to go hard for my brothers. They motivate me and let me know I can’t have any days off. The brotherhood is for real.
DBN: You came to a linebacker group that just about everybody was already on the roster the year before. Are these veteran players helping you out, or treating you like the kid who is here to take their spot?
Thomas: There help you out. At the end of the day, we are all fighting for the same job, but we are all helping each other, too. As long as you carry your responsibilities and learn. It is not a hostile environment at all. All the vet linebackers are cool and know I have questions.
DBN: What is Schwartz like as a coach?
Thomas: He motivates you. He is full of energy and wants you to succeed. He is a good coach and I feel like I am in a good place.
DBN: Now that the off-season has begun, what are your diet goals?
Thomas: That is my biggest thing this off-season is to gain some weight. Some added weight protects your body from getting hurt. As long as it doesn’t affect my speed, I feel this will be a good thing for me to accomplish. The Browns send me a list of foods to eat during the off-season and I just stay with that.
Editor’s note: Thomas runs at the 4 minute mark
DBN: Let us rewind a play. You had a great game against the Jets in the Hall of Fame Game in preseason where you finished with the second most tackles on the team. That tackle you made in the fourth quarter on RB Damarea Crockett could be heard all over the stadium. That reminds us of a tackle you made against Western Carolina where you planted the running back. Can we expect at least one highlight tackle from you in every game?
Thomas: Career-wise that was the hardest hit I have had with the Browns so far. But as I get more time on the field, those kinds of tackles I have been known for in college. You have to read where the gaps are at this level, then go after it and put somebody on the ground. You have to know your body and make a big play. I was in pursuit to that side, then he cut back into my angle.
DBN: What is the greatest difference from the college game to the pro game?
Thomas: The biggest difference is the skill. Everybody is bigger, faster. You have guys who master their techniques and know their roles.
Editor’s note: Thomas appears at the 9:58 mark
DBN: You ran a 4.57 at the Combine. What do you say to those that say you are too light to play linebacker in this league?
Thomas: Maybe at some time I was too light. The weight is protection to not get hurt. You don’t have to be huge to play football. My body size is built for my speed. The game is changing and the prototypical player is not 6’-4” and 255 pounds. I feel I play at a good level with my size and can dominate. You don’t have to acquire this large amount of weight just to play linebacker.
DBN: You are a good coverage linebacker. Did this experience come from all those years playing safety at a high level?
Thomas: Definitely, but I have also played a lot of different positions. All of those positions helped me to play linebacker. I gained an understanding of each position and gained perspective. So you learn to play a different way from the experience.
DBN: You are athletic enough to cover the tight end in space. What is the key to covering a guy who has the height and size advantage over you?
Thomas: Not being able to take any bad steps and use the proper techniques. You can’t let them push off of you because they have the weight advantage. You can’t let them get all up on you that can change your place in coverage. Being physical with a bigger player is only going to help me in coverage.
DBN: Everyone in your hometown of Thomasville, Georgia was rooting for you. If you make the final 53-man roster this year, do you think you could run for Mayor of Thomasville and win?
Thomas: I don’t know too much about politics. That may be possible sometime down the road though.
DBN: You grew up a Southern kid eating cheese grits, boiled peanuts, fried pork chops, collards, and sweet tea. How did you handle freezing conditions in Cleveland come November through January?
Thomas: Standing outside in it isn’t too bad when you are moving around. I was told that there were some really cold days, but this season it wasn’t too bad. Maybe that happened in other years before I got here. We had one game that everyone said was going to get colder as the game went along and it never did so that was a blessing. I didn’t experience too many extremely cold days but heard enough about them. Especially they were talking about being in the snow. I was told to be careful when driving in it because we don’t have the extreme weather in Georgia. It wasn’t anything too crazy for this year.
DBN: What is it like being on the practice squad, and then being pulled up a game, and then having to go back to the practice squad all week?
Thomas: That is just how it works, and if you are on the practice squad you are happy that you were able to play in any game. You know unless someone gets hurt, your job is the practice squad that week and you put into it what will benefit you as a player. And be ready to play when they tell me. It’s a great experience to play in a game and gives you a little hope that they will see how much work you put into it.
DBN: Your first Browns game, who was it that told you were going to be activated, and who was the first person you told?
Thomas: Coach Ventrone told me they needed me for special teams. Once practice was over I called my agent, then my mom and uncle. In some sort of order like that.
DBN: Who were some of your favorite NFL players growing up?
Thomas: We watched the Luke Kuechly, LaDainian Tomlinson, and guys who might not be mainstream but are respected. I liked the Philadelphia Eagles growing up. Michael Vick when he got his starts after he came back, DeSean Jackson, and LeSean McCoy. That is the team I got into. I wasn’t big on defensive players back then.
DBN: What do you think you showed the Browns defensive coaches this year?
Thomas: That I can move well and get in and out of my breaks. I can tackle. This is just the beginning of a long career. I stay in shape and strong. My goal is to gain the weight. I showed that I have versatility and can work in different schemes. Keep my head down and driving. I can only control what I can control.
DBN: What discussion have you had with the Browns about coming back next year?
Thomas: Just the opportunity to come back in the building again. Signing the futures deal enables me to come back for the OTAs.
DBN: What is it going to take for you to make the final roster as one of the Browns linebackers this year?
Thomas: The way I see it, to come back better than ever. I feel it’s in my hands. I am a hitter.
DBN: What is your fondest moment of being a Cleveland Brown?
Thomas: Being active for the games I did play, to be honest. I had a good time and felt I played some good football. I look forward to more of those and can’t wait.