Tackling A New Position

First-string left tackle Kyle Thomas has been busy mastering a new position, but offensive line coach Bobby Johnson says there's one thing he's yet to learn...

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – After making a late-season position switch last fall, 6-4, 292-pound Kyle Thomas has thrown himself into his new spot on the offensive line in an effort to get ready for the start of the 2006 season.

But for everything the Bloomington (Ind.) North product has learned since making the move, there's one thing IU offensive line coach Bobby Johnson thinks the redshirt freshman doesn't know.

How good he can be.

"I'm real excited about Kyle," Johnson said. "I try to contain my excitement at times because I don't want to make the other guys think Kyle is my favorite. I don't have a favorite. But Kyle has so much upside, so much potential."

That's why Thomas has surfaced on the Hoosiers' No. 1 offensive line unit as the team's projected starting left tackle, arguably the most important piece to the offensive line puzzle. Of course, Thomas doesn't like to think of himself as a starter just yet.

"I look at myself as a (second-team player) trying to earn my spot at a starting position," Thomas said. "I don't like to think of myself as a starter right now."

Thomas might not think of himself as a first-teamer a week into spring practice, but Johnson certainly expects big things from the one-time defensive end during the next four seasons.

"I told Kyle when he moved over, ‘Kyle, if you just gain the weight, you have a chance to play for a long time - and I don't just mean at IU,'" Johnson said.

What Johnson saw in Thomas last season was the sort of player who had the kind of frame he looks for when he goes out recruiting. Thomas had excellent size (6'4"), very good athleticism, and the sort of frame that could handle more weight. Those are very similar characteristics to many of IU's incoming freshmen, including Jarrod Smith, Alex Perry and Mike Stark, among others.

He also saw a player who wasn't close to cracking the two-deep on the defensive side of the ball.

"He was on the fourth team, and it was like he's never going to play," Johnson said. "The defensive coaches said ‘he's having a tough time grasping what we're doing.' And I said, ‘I'll take him.' If he wasn't go to be able to play for them, he could at least help me."

At the time, Johnson was struggling to find enough capable bodies to put together a two-deep up front. Thomas, it was thought, could possibly help the team as a center or down the road as a tackle. But "down the road" is already here, and Johnson said it quickly became obvious Thomas had plenty of potential.

"When he came over, he just kind of had a knack for a lot of the things," Johnson said.

While the position switch has been a positive one for Thomas, Johnson isn't so sure the Bloomington native was buying everything he had to say about his potential at the position. After all, he had been recruited to play defensive end and there had never been any talk of him switching sides of the ball.

"I think at first he was a little skeptical," Johnson said. "I think at first he thought, ‘I'm 260 pounds, and I don't look anything like those guys.' And when he said that to me, I said, ‘Kyle, you're right. That's why you have a chance to play for a long time, because you don't look like some of the guys' that were here."

While that athletic, rangy frame was something that appealed to Johnson, he also knew Thomas would have to put on weight in the off-season to be physically capable of contributing this fall. Thomas has done that, thanks in some small part to an injury that had him on the sidelines.

"I broke my foot so I was out for a while, and that helped me gain some weight there," Thomas said. "Since I couldn't run, I gained weight from lifting, and that helped out. Last year I was about 250, and right now I'm at 292. They didn't really force me to gain weight – they said to do it at my own pace, do it healthy, eat right and lift and get stronger, put it on the right way."

He's done that, and it hasn't taken away from the quick feet and athleticism that made him an enticing prospect in the first place.

"He gained 30 pounds in the off-season, and he looks good," Johnson said. "He's not fat my any stretch of the imagination. He could be 310 pounds and still look good."

All of those things have Johnson bubbling with enthusiasm about Thomas' possibilities, and Thomas excited about his prospects of being an anchor up front for a long time. Fellow offensive tackle Chauncey Incarnato thinks there are nothing but good things ahead for Thomas.

"Kyle has done a great job," Incarnato said. "He's a hard working, tough kid. He goes all out every play. I feel he's going to be an awesome offensive lineman, and far better than he would have been on the d-line.

"I think offense is where he belongs. I think he can go as far as he wants on offense."

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