Tra Thomas took a few steps into the drizzling rain, looked up at the gray sky and nearly jumped out of his cleats when lightning crackled overhead.
"That's it for me," Thomas said as he dashed for cover.
The Jacksonville Jaguars might want to consider keeping Thomas well out of harm's way. After all, the 6-foot-7, 316-pound veteran has become the team's biggest bargaining chip in negotiations with first-round draft pick Eugene Monroe. If Monroe's holdout stretches deep into training camp, Thomas will be Jacksonville's starting left tackle when the season begins.
And the Jaguars believe they would be just fine with the three-time Pro Bowler protecting David Garrard's blind side.
"He's a great security blanket. The best, really," guard Vince Manuwai said Wednesday. "He's got the credentials, and he can still play. Who else would you want to have over there?"
Thomas, entering his 12th season, signed a three-year, incentive-laden contract with Jacksonville in March. He considered staying in Philadelphia, where he helped the Eagles reach five NFC championship games and the 2005 Super Bowl, but chose to move closer to home in DeLand.
The Jaguars said he'd be the starter to replace Khalif Barnes, but then selected Monroe with the eighth pick in April's draft. The move didn't surprise Thomas, who knew he wasn't a long-term solution at one of the game's premium positions.
Thomas responded exactly how the Jaguars had hoped, though. He welcomed Monroe and embraced the notion of battling for a spot _ even though he had been pretty much been entrenched in the starting lineup since the Eagles drafted him 11th overall in 1998 out of Florida State.
"Every year, especially when you get to my age, you've got to continue to prove yourself," Thomas said. "Coming down here has revitalized me a little bit, given me an extra spark to show these cats I can still play the game. I just got to go out and perform like I've always done."
The Jaguars can only hope for similar results.
Thomas has missed only eight games in his career _ only one the past three seasons _ and allowed two sacks in 658 attempts in 2008. Granted, that came in Philly's quick-throwing, West Coast offense. But Thomas believes he can be equally effective in Jacksonville's run-oriented scheme.
"I'm up to the challenge," he said.
Monroe was impressive during minicamp and organized team activities, and looked like he would push Thomas for the job. But Monroe and the team couldn't work out a contract to get him here on time.
Jacksonville was prepared to give the former Virginia standout $18 million guaranteed, which would have been nearly $1 million more than the Jaguars guaranteed defensive end Derrick Harvey (also the eighth pick) last season. Monroe's representatives wanted more, especially since Oakland gave receiver Darrius Heyward-Bay (the seventh pick) $23.5 million guaranteed.
The Jaguars, a small-market franchise struggling to sell tickets and facing several television blackouts, might not budge soon. Harvey's holdout lasted 33 days, the longest in team history, and left him behind when the season started. He finished with 3 1/2 sacks.
"The best thing for the player to do is be here because this team is moving on and there's a lot of good work being put in," coach Jack Del Rio said. "Seeing last year what the absence did to the player, I hope that everybody involved kind of recognizes that. It's a lot of money one way or another. But I think the player may suffer the most in the whole deal."
Thomas stands to benefit, though.
Getting a starting spot would add to what has already been an enjoyable stay in Jacksonville for Thomas. Although he is currently renting former Jaguars linebacker Mike Peterson's home, he's considering buying a place and retiring here after football.
In the meantime, he just wants to fill whatever role the Jaguars have for him.
"I just try to come out here and compete, put in the work, do what I do and execute," Thomas said. "I don't know what the situation's going to be (with Monroe). They just told me to compete for the job, and that's what I'm doing.
"I just want to focus on what I have to do on the field and let the office people handle the office stuff. I want to keep the quarterback clean and not make any mistakes out there and let all that other stuff take care of itself."