Ambry Thomas’ storybook ending didn’t come easy for Rookie CB

“I don’t think you can write it any better than that,” linebacker Fred Warner said. “Just like the end of a storybook.”

Thomas stepped in when the 49ers needed him the most. San Francisco’s secondary was one of the biggest areas of concern for the team heading into the regular season finale, as much of the unit missed practice weeks due to being on the roster. Reserve / COVID-19. Week 18 was already predicted to pose a challenge to the 49ers defense as they faced a Los Angeles team that boasts some of the strongest and most capable receivers in the entire league.

Not only was Thomas tested in Sunday’s contest with the team’s playoff chances, but his performance was scrutinized throughout his rookie season.

Before joining the 49ers as the team’s third-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the cornerback didn’t play football for all of 2020 due to a canceled season at the University of Michigan due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During the first half of his rookie season, Thomas didn’t see the field much and only played 20 snaps in total for nearly three quarters of the season. However, the rookie was pushed into a bigger role after a series of significant injuries during the season for players such as Jason Verrett and Emmanuel Moseley.

“It was pretty hard to be inactive for all those games and keep my mind on the football and watch my guys play on Sundays and I’m not,” Thomas said. “It just made me work harder every time we trained. So I’m grateful for that honestly because it lifted me up.”

The rookie’s hard work and determination paid off as the 49ers gave Thomas a starting role starting in Week 14, including the regular season finale, before several veteran options. With the confidence of his coaching staff, Thomas won his biggest game of the year (and probably his young career) on one of the most pivotal moments of the 49ers season.

“Thomas definitely made me a believer,” Shanahan said. “I wouldn’t have thought he could have done it the way it started. It sounds a bit harsh, but it’s not. That’s a huge compliment. It took him a while , but when he had the chance… he was ready and he competed.”

The transformation from a tough rookie start to a reliable defensive back came to fruition after a shift in mindset. Thomas said after a year away from the game he needed to get back into “football mode”. Once his mind was focused, his performance followed.

“We corner, we don’t think the ball is ours. But no – if you’re there, the ball is yours,” Thomas said. “I look back on all the stuff I’ve been beaten on, and I’ve always been there. I just needed that ‘the ball is mine’ mindset, and it’s starting to come. More j ‘get more reps, the better I get.’

It’s been a long journey for the cornerback to find his place in the NFL, but he came at the right time. Thomas and the 49ers now have their sights set on the playoffs, where they will face the Dallas Cowboys in Sunday’s Wild Card round.

“I’m just really happy that we’re in the dance now,” Thomas said. “It’s all that matters.”

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