"Coming from safety to corner is a big, big change," said Steven Thomas. "It was really hard at first but now I really love playing corner. I find it easier now that I've been playing cornerback. I got down the technique and the plays, and so it's getting easier for me. Everyone has been helping me out and telling me what to do, so it's been an easier transition for me at the cornerback position.
"At cornerback everything happens so much faster that you don't really have time to read the ball. At safety you're playing with more depth, so you have time to read the receivers and read the quarterback. At cornerback it's more focused on reading what the receiver is doing, running with him and trying to prevent him from catching the ball. You focus on what he is doing within his routes and jump it. It's more playing man-on-man when you play corner."
The safety position requires a full understanding of the defensive scheme and how each player and their responsibilities fit within it. Due to their visual advantage point, safeties are responsible for getting guys lined up in the right spots within a given defensive call. Fortunately for Thomas, former Cougar cornerback and current safety Scott Johnson has been guiding Thomas out on the field.
"It's hard playing safety for different reasons," said Thomas. "I don't think I would have had as easy of a transition to playing cornerback if it weren't for Scott Johnson by my side. He's at free safety now so he and I are playing a lot together, and he's been making sure I know the play and tells me to do this or do that. That helps so much while you're actually out there playing. When you have someone out there behind you who knows your position helping you it becomes so much easier. You're able to work better together and be that much more effective."
As Thomas has become more familiar and developed within the cornerback position, his practice performance has vastly improved. In fact, during Monday's practice session he ran stride-for-stride with his receiver, turning his head around at the last minute and deflecting the ball away. Thomas feels there are three things needed in order to become an effective cornerback.
"The key to playing corner successfully is footwork," said Thomas. "That's the key thing. You have to have good footwork. If you don't, then you're going to get twisted up or not have the ability to react quick enough to put yourself in position to defend. If you don't have good footwork you're going to get beat every time. You have to have loose hips and be able to turn with the receiver when he reacts. You also have to be physical to play man-press. When you line up across from a receiver, you have to be able to jam him up at the line of scrimmage or pump him off his route. If you're physical you can knock him off your route and it will make your job much easier."
During skeli drills and scrimmages, Thomas has the task of defending wide receivers the likes of Luke Ashworth, O'Neill Chambers, B.J. Peterson, Tyler Kozlowski and Steven Covey, and he will face McKay Jacobson and Spencer Hafoka once they return to the practice field. It's a task that Thomas feels has helped him to become a better cover corner due to the wide ranges of skills each receiver brings to the field.
"Going against physical receivers makes you more physical as a corner, and going against speed guys makes you react and cover quicker," said Thomas. "I like going up against Ashworth or Chambers because I can feel myself improving. You have to step up your level of play to match what they're doing. Over time that level of play becomes your level of play."
In the audio interview below, Thomas talks a little bit about his personal progress and how Coach Hill has helped him improve at the position.