There were moments last season when the Chiefs' De'Anthony Thomas resembled the player that rapper Snoop Dogg nicknamed "Black Mamba," a shifty do-everything star renowned for his speed and elusiveness on the Pop Warner playing fields.
There were also moments that he looked like a lost NFL rookie.
Now a year wiser and stronger, Thomas is hoping to build on that debut entering Year 2 with Kansas City. He's made the switch from running back to wide receiver, but the reality is the spot amounts to semantics — versatility remains a big part of his game.
"I learned the running back stuff last year, now I'm learning the receiver stuff also," he said. It's just all about learning the whole offense, and I feel like the more valuable I can be to the team, the more time I can be on the field."
Thomas only played in 12 games last season, and his numbers on offense were modest: 14 carries for 113 yards and a score, and 23 catches for 156 yards.
In fact, he was more valuable as a kick and punt returner, even taking one punt for a touchdown against Oakland.
But the Chiefs expect more of the former fourth-round draft pick this season, especially given how thin they are at wide receiver.
Jeremy Maclin is the unquestioned leader of the position group, and Jason Avant is the elder statesman. But beyond that, players such as Albert Wilson are big on potential but short on proven ability.
"He is still taking the ball-handling, still doing stuff in the running back position, but the majority of his snaps were from that receiver position," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said, when asked to explain the switch to wide receiver.
"So we said, 'You know what? Let's just put him there. We know he can get back there — he does ball-handling, so he works on the runs, but we put the major emphasis on him getting to know those routes better as a receiver.'"
Thomas has already turned some heads in training camp. He made such a stunning cut to get open against cornerback Phillip Gaines that the defender went toppling to the ground, captured on a video that quickly went viral.
It wasn't a whole lot different from Thomas' days in college, when he would seemingly snap the ankles of a woebegone defender while racing around the field for Oregon.
"I just see myself as a contributor," Thomas said. "Special teams is very big for us also. Doing stuff on special teams, and then coming in certain plays and certain formations to get the defense to where I'm at on the field — and how we can beat them."
The Chiefs have had gadget-type players in the past, such as Dexter McCluster, who played a similar role before Thomas' arrival.
But the youngster from Los Angeles possesses a wholly unique combination of speed and quickness that makes him a matchup nightmare.
In fact, Thomas admits his eyes light up when a bigger cornerback lines up on him.
"Real big. Just making that one move to open his hips up, and that's the only thing I need. The next is attacking him," he said. "After that, just letting ability take over. Just being patient and having fun out there."
In an interview setting, Thomas punctuates many of his answers with "just having fun out there," and for good reason. When you have the ability to make defenders look silly — whether it's a teammate in training camp or an AFC rival in the regular season — it's hard not to have fun.
"Quickness and speed, that's what he's got. And he's really strong. For being small, he's strong," Reid said. "You don't want to miss with him. He is one of those guys you put in that category if you're a defensive corner or safety and he's playing on the inside, you do not want to miss if you're playing press coverage on him. You're probably not going to catch him."
NOTES: There were several scuffles in Sunday's practice, including punches thrown between WR Jeremy Maclin and DB Marcus Cooper. RB Charcandrick West and CB Jamell Fleming got into it, as did WR Albert Wilson and CB Steven Nelson. ... OLB Dee Ford did not practice after going through the concussion protocol following Saturday's workout.
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.