Entering fall camp, Russell and Thomas were easy to pencil in as starters at the safety positions. Last season as a junior, Russell started four games, making 34 tackles and three interceptions (second best on the team), while Thomas made nine starts and 20 tackles.
But heading into Thursday's first game against the Racers, neither Russell or Thomas are listed as starters for Louisville defense. Instead, junior Richard Raglin and senior Deon Palmer sit atop the depth chart at free and strong safety.
"We have five talented safety's, so the depth chart could change at any time," said Raglin, who appeared in all 13 games last season. "I feel like maybe the coaches saw something in me that presented me as a starter. But it's just the first game and the depth chart could change by the second game. I just want to keep working hard and hopefully I can maintain the position."
Raglin, who was credited with 10 tackles and one fumble recovery last season, said he's made significant improvement since his sophomore season.
"Coming into camp, the (coaches) told me I needed to be more physical and work on my technique and I feel like I really worked on that over the summer and improved in the areas that they wanted me to improve," Raglin said. "I showed them that I'm coachable and that I can take coaching."
The competition at safety was already pretty tough with Russell, Thomas, Raglin and Palmer returning. Add in talented redshirt freshman Brandon Heath, a fierce hitter from Palm Beach, Florida, and stud recruit C.J. Peake, and defensive coordinator Mike Cassity has a ton of talent stockpiled in the secondary.
"Oh, at safety the (competition) is really fierce because we have Jon Russell, a senior and three year starter and we have Latarrius Thomas, a freshman All-American who started every game for us last year," Raglin said. "And we also have Brandon Heath who is a hard-hitting safety. So it's real tough. I can't really say who would be the starter for any given game."
Despite the competition, Raglin said he and the other safety's have a strong bond on and off the field.
"We look at each other as brothers," Raglin said. "We compete on the field, but off the field we love each other like brothers."