Full Speed Ahead: DT Ready For Game Action

Senior linebacker Dontarrious Thomas is back in the action preparing for Auburn's season opener vs. Southern Cal.

Auburn, Ala.--Much has been made of the hamstring injury that Dontarrious Thomas suffered the second day of fall practice. One of Auburn's most experienced players heading into the 2003 season, Thomas knows the defensive playbook from front to back. If anybody on the team could afford to miss practice and still be effective opening day, it would be the fifth-year senior linebacker and honor student.

Because of that the Auburn coaches decided the most important thing Thomas could do was rest. That's exactly what he's done, in between rehab assignments with the trainers and workouts with Strength and Conditioning Coach Kevin Yoxall. Now completely healthy, the 6-4, 241-pounder returned to practice Thursday and wasted little time making his presence known with several hard hits and pass breakups. Following the workout he said everything felt good and he was 100 percent and ready to get things started.

"It's kind of tough," he said. "During two-a-days the offense was having some good scrimmages, but I just wanted to get back out there for me. I wanted to get better and I have some things I need to work on. This is a new position I'm playing and I only had spring to practice for it."

Thomas works with the first defense while Coach Don Dunn looks on in Thursday's practice.

Thomas is featured on the cover of ESPN The Magazine's college football preview issue along with fellow senior linebacker Karlos Dansby. The article focuses on how DT likes to verbally challenge opponents during games. "I do my fair share, but I don't let it get out of control," said Thomas, who is known for being diplomatic in his pre-game and post-game statements when discussing oppoents. "I just do it to try to give me a competitive advantage. I don't do anything out of disrespect, I don't play nasty, I just try to get myself ready to play the next play and keep myself focused. I may jabber a little bit, but I believe everybody that plays football jabbers some."

Much of the jabbering this summer to Thomas has been from Auburn fans talking about the season and in particular the USC game. Hearing about it daily since Auburn defeated Penn State, Thomas said it's finally game week and it couldn't come any sooner.

"It's been feeling like that for a while, especially for the fans," Thomas said. "Everybody has been ready for this game and we're ready, too. We're just as excited. It's going to take a lot of practice and adjustments to get prepared for this game. We're going to need it.

"You have to be patient," Thomas added. "You have to be focused and really learn your defense. It's kind of tough. I'm just ready to get out there. This is a big game and this is my last year. I just want to have a good performance. Hopefully, we can all get together, come out as a team and play as well as we can."

Dontarrious Thomas

Something that will help that process is solid depth at the linebacker position. Even with the losses of sophomores Lemarcus Rowell and Kevis Burnam as well as freshman Mike Sherill, the Tigers are still stocked at the position with eight quality players in the ranks. Thomas said when you take a close look there are actually more players than that because of the way they are coached.

"If somebody goes down we have somebody to replace them," Thomas said. "Coach (Joe) Whitt is teaching us to learn all positions. If we lack depth at one position, we can move A.T. (Antarrious Williams) and switch him back and forth at that position. It won't take rushing him in a week. They are already learning it."

Expected to be one of the top defenses in the country, the Tigers will get a stern test when the Trojans roll into town for the Aug. 30 season opener for both teams. With former high school All-Americans at just about every offensive position, Thomas said this is what it's all about for a defensive unit looking to prove itself once again.

"It's going to be a challenge and I'm looking forward to it," Thomas said. "I'm sure they are looking forward to us and we're looking forward to them. Everybody on the defense and offense is ready to play that game. If we go out and put everything together we can have a good game. We have to stay focused and realize we can't rush to that game. We can't think ahead right now. We have to live for the moment and right now that's practicing and getting better."

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