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posted: 8/5/2012 8:22 PM

Thomas walks away from Bears, NFL

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  • Wide receiver Devin Thomas took the Bears by surprise Sunday by deciding it was time to retire.

      Wide receiver Devin Thomas took the Bears by surprise Sunday by deciding it was time to retire.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

 
 

BOURBONNAIS -- Wide receiver Devin Thomas left the Bears on Sunday morning and has decided to retire from the NFL.

"He's not with us anymore," Bears coach Lovie Smith said after Sunday afternoon's practice. "Decided he didn't want to play anymore football."

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The four-year veteran signed a one-year, $700,000 contract with the Bears in the off-season and was expected to provide depth in the return game and on other special teams in addition to challenging for a backup spot at wide receiver.

Thomas earned a Super Bowl ring last season as a member of the New York Giants. Playing special teams, he recovered a fumble in overtime of the NFC title game that set up the game-winning field goal.

Smith was asked if had any indication that Thomas was about to walk away from the game.

"None at all," the Bears' coach said. "When I found out about it, it was a surprise to me. But you don't want a guy out here if he's not totally into football, and he (doesn't have) a passion to play it.

"So it's not like I try to talk guys out of it when they've made up their mind."

The 6-foot-2, 221-pound Thomas was the 34th overall pick of the Redskins in the 2008 draft out of Michigan State, but he never came close to living up to expectations.

His best season was 2009, when he caught 25 passes for 325 yards and 3 touchdowns with Washington. He had just 3 catches in the previous two seasons.

He established himself as a solid kickoff returner, averaging 24.1 yards on 60 attempts.

With Thomas gone, the Bears have another roster spot available at wide receiver.

Brandon Marshall, Devin Hester, Earl Bennett and second-round pick Alshon Jeffery are locks. Unrestricted free agent Eric Weems, another special-teams standout, also is expected to make the 53-man roster.

That probably leaves no more than one other spot available at wide receiver.

Second-year player Dane Sanzenbacher wasted no time stepping up Sunday. With Bennett limited by a lower-leg injury, Sanzenbacher got more extensive first-team reps and made several impressive catches against the No. 1 defense.

"(He made) a big impression," Smith said. "The same type he made last year as an undrafted free agent and earning a spot on the roster. He has a role that he can do, a quick receiver in the slot. He shows up every day. He's a good football player."

Sanzenbacher has an advantage over four undrafted rookies in camp. He caught 27 passes last season, when he beat the odds after coming to camp as an undrafted rookie out of Ohio State.

But the 5-11, 180-pound Sanzenbacher said a year of experience doesn't make his mission any easier than it was last year.

"I have just as much to prove, I feel like," he said. "You go into the locker room on Family Day (last Friday night's practice at Soldier Field), and you still don't have a guaranteed locker yet.

"It's the same situation. It's just another year down the road."

Of the four undrafted rookie wide receivers in camp, Brittan Golden has been the most impressive of a group that also includes Joe Anderson, Terriun Crump and Chris Summers.

rlegere@dailyherald.com

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