He spent the first three years of his career as a backup to Jevon Kearse in Tennessee. For most of the past two-and-a-half seasons, he's been Kearse's backup in Philadelphia.
Now, Juqua Thomas replaces Kearse as the starter at left defensive end. Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson made the announcement at his press conference Thursday.
"Trent (Cole) is playing at a high caliber, no question about it. J.T. is playing very well. Those two right now they're two of our better ends in the pass rush. It's as simple as that and they're getting more time than (Darren) Howard and Jevon. No secret. J.T. is getting good pressure and so is Trent," Johnson said.
For all intents and purposes, the 29-year-old Thomas has been the unofficial starter for weeks. The Redskins opened in a two tight-end set last week, a formation which called for rookie Victor Abiamiri to start in only his second NFL game. However, Thomas took most of the snaps. He's totaled four sacks this season and since 2006 he is second among all undrafted players with 11.5 sacks (Chicago's Adewale Ogunleye, 16.5), according to Stats Inc.
"It's going to be a big challenge," said Thomas.
Kearse started the first eight games of the season. The three-time Pro Bowl end battled back from a left knee injury which sidelined him for all but two games last year. However, he is not 100 percent healthy. Kearse has had to have his knee drained twice this season, the last time was prior to the Dallas game.
"It's football. That's how it was when I came in. That's how it will be when I'm gone. It's a part of the game," Kearse said after Thursday's practice.
Thomas originally signed with the Titans as a rookie free agent in 2001. He accumulated five sacks over four years as the backup to Kearse, Carlos Hall and Kevin Carter. Thomas joined the Eagles during training camp in 2005 and had a phenomenal 10-tackle performance in the season finale. Thomas re-upped for one more season and had a career-high six sacks with another 1.5 in the two playoff games. On the first day of free agency in 2007, Thomas was re-signed by the Eagles to a five-year deal.
Johnson added that Howard, who has primarily played as a defensive tackle in the nickel package, is strictly a right defensive end and should see more snaps this week as Cole's backup. Howard made two big stops during the goal line stand in the fourth quarter of last Sunday's win that held the Redskins to a field goal and allowed the Eagles the opportunity to come back and win.