Vikings rookie Roc Thomas kept a straight face when describing what he was attempting to do in Saturday’s preseason opener.
“I was trying to get my name out,’’ he said. “That was the whole goal.’’
Then Thomas laughed.
“I’m kidding, man.’’
Regardless, Thomas did get his name noticed plenty for his performance in a 42-28 win at Denver. The undrafted running back has ended up on plenty of highlight reels after catching three passes for 102 yards and two touchdowns and carrying eight times for 29 yards.
Thomas is battling Mack Brown and Mike Boone, another undrafted rookie, to make the 53-man roster as the third back behind Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray. He wasted no time in showing his stuff after checking in late in the first quarter.
Thomas caught a 13-yard touchdown pass from Trevor Siemian with 1:36 left in the quarter. Then he took a screen pass from Siemian and sprinted 78 yards to the end zone with 4:59 left in the first half.
“I was thinking before the game, ‘This is my first game,’’’ Thomas said. “My whole train of thought was go in and just try to get your feet wet, but I got my whole body wet.’’’
It was an impressive debut for a back who wasn’t exactly a household name after playing at small-college Jacksonville State, where he rushed for 1,065 yards as a senior. Thomas spent his first two years at Auburn but didn’t play much before transferring.
“I tell people I’m from Jacksonville State and they say, ‘Florida?’’’ Thomas said. “I say, ‘No, Jacksonville, Alabama.’’’
At least the location of Thomas’ school is better known than his given first name. It’s Racean.
“Maybe like 12 people know that, and that’s my family,’’ he said. “Or maybe my teachers in high school, and that’s probably it.’’
The Oxford, Ala., native got his nickname from his aunt, Lily Thomas, because he was a handful when very young.
“I would cause a lot of trouble,’’ he said. “Everybody was just calling me ‘Roc’ like a rock because I was a hard-headed kid. I was always running around and hitting my sisters and brothers on the upside of the head. I was bad. I was real bad.’’
Thomas insists now that he’s a good guy and the only people he hits are defenders in his way. According to Pro Football Focus, Thomas averaged 2.9 yards following contact on his runs Saturday.
However, on his long touchdown, nobody got in his way. It was nothing but smooth sailing to the end zone after taking a pass from Siemian three yards behind the line of scrimmage.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Thomas said. “I’m going to take that. That’s money right there. I just saw a lot of green.”
When he got to the end zone, Thomas did a celebratory dance.
“Oh, man, that guy right there has got some juice,’’ said Vikings tackle Rashod Hill. “We were all impressed by him.’’
After the game, Murray sought Thomas out to offer congratulations.
“He looked real good making plays,’’ Murray said. “This is his first NFL action, so for him to go out there and have a good day, I was happy for him.”
The 5-foot-10, 198-pound Thomas is hopeful his receiving ability will help him make the team. He believes he has some similarities to the 5-9, 205-pound Jerick McKinnon, the versatile running back who signed last March as a free agent with San Francisco after four seasons with Minnesota.
“I think (Saturday) was a good showcase of my versatility,’’ Thomas said. “Coming out of the backfield and catching the ball and running between tackles,’’
Whether it was a goal or not, he did that well enough to get his name out.