My first Julius Thomas break down of the season landed after Thomas' fourth game as a Jaguar. I mined and hoed through the pass-catching tight end's game film, digging past the fruitless stats on the surface in an effort to uncover invisible production and areas of impact.
By the end of that write-up, I had arrived at a humble conclusion: Julius Thomas was doing the right things, but the team wasn't capitalizing on enough opportunities for him to make a real impact.
Through his first four games, Thomas totaled just 116 yards on 13 receptions. There were moments when Thomas was open but not targeted, as well as situations where Thomas struggled to create for himself downfield. Julius and quarterback Blake Bortles weren't on the same page, and the stat sheet reflected this. I tried my best to illuminate these issues.
It took three more weeks for Julius to give me a better reason to write about him, but he finally delivered.
Of course, I wish this delivery arrived under better circumstances. The Jaguars lost to the Chargers on Sunday, ruining a two-game winning streak and gifting local media with a variety of reasons to smash their fingers into a keyboard on Monday.
But if you can find a way to gaze through the disappointing loss, you might just find a couple of things to be pleased with -- for example, your favorite $46 million tight-end finally making a lot of the plays he was brought to Jacksonville to make.
Thomas' game against the Chargers was far from perfect, and the impact he made on the game wasn't impactful enough to make a real difference. Still, Thomas and Bortles connected on a lot of the plays that I -- we -- have been begging them to make.
Don't call it a comeback. No, really -- don't. Teal Julius still has a few steps to take alongside the Jaguars' offense if we're ever going to see him play like Orange Julius. But as the Jaguars continue to uncover more approaches to getting Thomas involved, his production should only increase.
Julius' yardage total through his first four games this season? 116 yards. Against the Chargers on Sunday? 116 yards. I pulled a few plays that combine to create a sort of portrait of the all-around threat that Julius Thomas can be. The first play that caught my eye was also one that made me think, "Now that's Julius Thomas."
He's more receiver than tight end
Don't let his size fool you, and don't let his roster label discourage you. Julius Thomas is a receiver, and he should be used as such. He has all of the tools.
Thomas mirrors second-year wide receiver Allen Robinson on the left side. Thomas' route, laid out in red, is going to carry him over the middle of the field. Meanwhile, Robinson (yellow) is going to sprint down the seam.
At the snap, Bortles looks towards Robinson's side of the field. Two defenders -- Eric Weddle and Jahleel Addae (blue) -- are sucked into the action unfolding to the right. Meanwhile, Julius Thomas lifts the cornerback defending him into the air and pushes him off of his route.
As Allen Robinson pulls Addae deep down the field, Julius Thomas runs past the defender that he has displaced.
Thomas uses his speed to (literally) run away from the cornerback. Bortles steps up in the pocket and delivers a strike to the middle of the field, now vacant due to Robinson's success in pulling coverage.
This is the moment that Thomas catches the ball. Julius has quite a bit of room to work with, but defenders are closing in from all angles.
Thomas outruns the first defender. Meanwhile, Robinson gets enough of a block on Addae to allow Thomas some more real estate up field.
Julius is eventually brought down at the 11-yard line, wrapping up a 34-yard reception that included 18 yards after the catch.
From the All-22 camera angle, Thomas looks no different than a galloping receiver, utilizing the entire field in a way that makes him a priority cover for defenders. Like his speed, his size and strength advantage over cornerbacks and linebackers alike gift him with a rare ability to put himself in situations to make a big play every time he is on the field.
His size makes him a hell of a safety net
His size also makes him a jump-ball target, and a hell of a safety net on third down.
"Safety net" was a term heavily used to describe Thomas when he first arrived in Jacksonville. His size and athleticism, at times, allows young Blake Bortles the luxury of making just one read and firing a ladder pass. On this third down, Blake goes all in on Thomas and Julius doesn't let his quarterback down.
Bortles receives the snap and plants his foot. Thomas rips through the defending corner's arm battle, and Blake immediately looks in his direction.
Blake fires the ball. Thomas positions himself like a rebounder in basketball -- feet wide, waist dropped, and head turned towards the ball.
The corner has absolutely no chance. Julius climbs the ladder and collects his rebound. The defender is just along for the ride at this point, his fate entirely in the hands of the 250-pound power forward he is defending...
...who decides to turn him into a landing pad.
Julius' frame makes him a weapon that is relatively easy to get the ball to. And if his size doesn't make him an open down-field target in certain situations, his route-running might.
His routes give him an edge
Towards the end of the game, on a crucial fourth down, the Jaguars desperately needed a conversion. Unsurprisingly, Blake went all in on Julius Thomas one final time.
Thomas, set in motion pre-snap, lines up behind the line of scrimmage. He's going to sprint out to the left flat.
Chargers safety Eric Weddle (blue) picks Thomas up as he turns parallel to the line of scrimmage. Blake's initial focus is on Allen Hurns (yellow), who is dragging his defender into the end zone.
Suddenly, Julius plants, changes direction, and explodes to the inside. Blake rips the pass before Thomas even sweeps his arms over Weddle.
Thomas burns his defender and catches the tail of the pass. His momentum carries him into the endzone.
That's six points and Thomas' second game in a row with a fourth quarter touchdown.
Three weeks ago, I wrote that the "Julius Thomas formula" would write itself as he absorbed more reps. I still believe this. However, it's starting to appear that the formula might be more elementary than I first thought. Perhaps even kindergarteners can understand it.
The Jaguars need to get Julius the ball, but there doesn't appear to be a pressing need to manufacture opportunities. Julius' implementation into the Jaguars' offense will continue to unfold naturally as Bortles continues to develop. Such is the case with any team that employs a young quarterback.
Moving forward, we can only hope that Julius' utility in the red zone takes on a more prominent role in the Jaguars red zone offense. Julius was signed to make an impact -- and we're starting to see that impact -- but we'd also like to see this impact lead to points more often.
Offensive consistency will also continue to be a storyline. The Jaguars' offense has struggled at times with establishing and maintaining a rhythm, and Julius is not absolved from this discussion. Thomas had a dropped pass on third down last weekend, and has yet to substantiate himself as the steady, reliable figure that the Jaguars' young core needs him to be.
But if nothing else, Sunday's game was a step in the right direction. Julius made his presence known on the field and the stat sheet. I'll take it.
One game at a time, I guess.