Randy Thomas grew up in East Point, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta, hearing about the tradition of "The Hogs" and what those players meant to Redskins football. Now that he's a member of the Redskins offensive line and coached by the architect of "The Hogs," Thomas is among those linemen eager to embrace a new nickname.
As has been well documented by now, assistant head coach-offense Joe Bugel has given his offensive line the nickname of "Dirtbags."
"To get a nickname from Bugel--it's a great feeling," Thomas said. "We wanted to establish ourselves as something different from 'The Hogs.' They're a great Redskins tradition, but we wanted our own identity, and it's perfect that Bugel was the guy to do it both times."
It's easy to see why Bugel has such devotion among his offensive linemen. Every day at practice, he takes the linemen to a corner of the field and works with them through drills. They take turns bullying a blocking sled, then huddle around Bugel listening to him bark out instructions.
"He's old school," Thomas said. "He's going on 65, but he acts like he's young inside. He's in front of every drill, showing us how to do it. And he was hitting the bags, too."
With Jon Jansen out for the season with an Achilles injury, Thomas, at right guard, will be depended on to help control the right side of the offensive line.
Thomas has been limited in practice off and on due to soreness in his knee, but he has started each of the Redskins' last two preseason games against Carolina and Miami. It was Thomas leading blocks for Clinton Portis on the tailback's 22-yard run in the first quarter of the Miami game, proving his combination of power and speed.
The 6-5, 301-pound Thomas has been paired with tackle Kenyatta Jones, a 6-3, 307-pounder, since Jansen went down.
"Kenyatta's doing fine," Thomas said. "He just needs more time and reps with the rest of us. He's been in the league for a while--he's been on a Super Bowl team. He just needed an opportunity to get back on the field.
"For Kenyatta to step in and do well, it's like being a hero. If he just plays hard, this line will be all right."
Thomas came to Washington prior to the 2003 season after spending his first four seasons with the New York Jets. Last year, he went on to start all 16 games--he didn't miss a snap--and at season's end was named a third alternate to the Pro Bowl. It was the fourth time in five seasons that Thomas started 16 games.
Thomas was eager to put the disappointing 5-11 campaign behind him.
During the offseason, Thomas opened a restaurant called "RT's" in Atlanta. As part of a FHM magazine profile, Thomas took on world-ranked professional eater Sonya Thomas (no relation) in a shrimp-eating competition. (Randy was defeated despite consuming 1.5 pounds of grilled shrimp in 10 minutes; Sonya ate 6.5 pounds.)
And when Joe Gibbs returned as the Redskins' head coach, Thomas felt like a rookie all over again because he had to earn the respect of an experienced coaching staff and learn a new offense.
"When Steve Spurrier left, we put last year behind," Thomas said. "We knew it was going to be a fresh start for whoever came in. When Coach Gibbs came in, we all felt like rookies. We had to go to school."
Thomas is one of the few players who can say he has played for both Gibbs and Bill Parcells. Thomas played for Parcells in 1999, his rookie year. John Hall also played for both Gibbs and Parcells.
"Coach Gibbs is completely honest and straightforward with you," Thomas said. "When he tells you something, he means it. He knows what level you can go and he knows when to push you and not push you."