Normally, a nose tackle goes about his business quietly and goes mostly unnoticed throughout a football game. However, San Diego Chargers nose tackle Cam Thomas, in his first game as a full-time starter, had his name called many times in the season opener against the Houston Texans, both for good and bad reasons. Thomas had about as up-and-down a game as possible in the Chargers crushing 31-28 loss.
On the first play from scrimmage, Thomas made his presence felt with an interception off a Jarret Johnson deflection. Rarely does a 330-pound nose tackle get an opportunity to pick off a pass, so it was a great heads up play on Thomas’ behalf. The interception helped the Bolts take a 7-0 lead just 15 seconds into their season and boosted the confidence of the whole team that lasted through three and a half quarters. Thomas also got some good push while rushing the passer and did his best JJ Watt impression, batting down a pass at the line of scrimmage.
However, things were all great for Thomas the entire game. He looked lost on some run plays and allowed some big holes for Arian Foster and Ben Tate to run through. Throughout his career, Thomas hasn’t been a consistently strong run stuffer – despite that being his primary job as a nose tackle – and it showed on Monday.
Thomas’ most influential play of the game though was his costly four-point penalty on special teams. On a successful field goal attempt by Houston’s Randy Bullock to cut the lead to 28-17, Thomas was called for a personal foul for hitting the long snapper, who’s considered a defenseless player. Instead of holding the Texans to a field goal and keeping a two-possession lead, the Chargers gave the Texans a first down, which turned into a touchdown on the very next play.
On Tuesday, NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino admitted that the personal foul call was an incorrect call. According to Blandino, the rule is to protect the long snapper from direct blows to the head or neck, and not to any contact with the snapper. Thomas merely tried to get penetration up the middle and even appeared to avoid the snapper as much as possible as he moved over him. Still, the call was made on Thomas, capping off a night of game-changing play, both positive and negative.
The Chargers are counting on Thomas to effectively play a key position at nose tackle with little depth or experience behind him. He’ll need be become more consistent if the Chargers’ defense were to take the next step.