Sam Webb: Yours is a name that Coach Hoke shouted out as having a good fall camp thus far. How do you think you’ve been doing in your own words?
Dymonte Thomas: “Right now I think I’m doing alright. I can always get better. I can always improve. I’m doing a lot better job of knowing my plays, getting the checks and understanding of what is going on. I’m getting a better comprehension of what my job is and the understanding that it is not my job to sometimes not make the play. My job sometimes is to force the play back in and someone else will make the play. That’s a really big adjustment from last year. Last year I felt like it was my job to make all the plays due to high school and everything, and thinking, ‘awe is it up to me.’ Coach finally has got me to understand that plays aren’t always meant to come to me… they’re meant to go to other teammates me too and it is just my job (to make sure) that the play doesn’t get outside of me so that someone else can make the play.”
Sam Webb: Talk to me about the transition, because watching you in high school obviously you were a dynamic offensive player. But on defense you played closer to the line of scrimmage, like a linebacker. What was the toughest part of that transition for you?
Dymonte Thomas: “I’d say the toughest part is my hips. Being a linebacker, you don’t really need to have good hips. All you have to do is come downhill, get off a block, and make a tackle. At safety you’ve got to backpedal, you’ve got to turn, you’ve got to come downhill, you’ve got to plant. That was a really hard challenge for me, but Coach Mallory did a great job getting me to adjust. Even Jarrod (Wilson), Terry (Richardson) and Delano (Hill) had me come in a few times with them. Terry did a really good job with footwork. I asked Terry to help me with my footwork. I’m strictly at safety now and in order for me to play I’ve got to have good footwork. Terry really worked on me, why I need to plant this way on this cut and plant that way on that cut. Now when I’m out there and doing walkthroughs… our coaches are really big on walkthrough. Walkthrough is like a run through, practice how you going to do in (in the game). Now I’m out there backpedalling, cutting, moving fast. Each and every day I get a chance to work on my backpedal from the drills and everything that Terry taught me. Now it is actually allowing me to understand what is going on and be ready to make cuts and be ready to actually get to the ball rather than come straight downhill like I usually always do.”
Sam Webb: How does it help you with separation coaching wise… Coach Mallory with just the safeties and Coach Manning with the corners… how does that assist you with your maturation process?
Dymonte Thomas: “Oh yes. When Coach Mallory was doing the safeties and the corners, sometimes the corner would mess up and he would focus on the corner, he would forget about the safeties, even though the safety messed up on the same play. Now with him just there with the safeties it allows him to be able to focus on us and get us to understand our technique and what we were doing wrong and everything. It is better to have one coach focus just on your position because he can actually just focus on you and don’t have to worry about anything else.”
Sam Webb: Talking to Coach Mattison this summer he said the defense, especially the secondary, is going to be more aggressive this year. Have you noticed that?
Dymonte Thomas: “Of course. Our corners are down there pressing them and jamming them, doing a great job. Our receivers are doing a great job of getting off the ball and everything. Our safeties are getting into the mix and making tackles and everything. Things are going good so far and hopefully that we become better as a unit and hopefully we become a really strong defense where teams are scared of us.”
Sam Webb: Why is this year going to be different with the defense better this year than last year?
Dymonte Thomas: “We’ve got a lot of returnees coming back. You’ve got Frank, Jake, Jarrod, Ray, Blake, Willie; you’ve got a lot of guys who have been in this system and know what is going on and how to keep us calm when the game is going. You’re going to see a lot of chemistry out there with the guys coming back. They know the checks and everything. They know the playbook and everything. They’re doing a great job of bring all the guys, like the freshman, including me, Delano and Jeremy, bringing us along to understand the playbook and how we can (be prepared) for the game. The game it is going to be different. They explained to us their experience and how they handled it and gave us advice. So now they bringing us up, now it is getting us all on the same level, playing to understand that we’ve got to play to a high level, high intensity and if we want to be good, we’ve got to have a good defense. The returnees understand that and they get everybody involved. If you mess up in practice, it’s weird. Because last year if you messed up in practice, the coaches got on you and everything, and a couple of players got on you maybe. This year if you mess up (when) you come to the sideline Frank is yelling at you like, ‘hey you didn’t do this right. I’m trying to do this and you did that.’ One time I came to the sideline, Jarrod was like, ‘you were not supposed to blitz’ and I (had) blitzed on accident. ‘You’re not supposed to blitz, you’ve got to get back. You’ve got to cover for the nickel. I was like, ‘why was that?’ He said, ‘because the nickel blitzed and you don’t want (his man) running down field free.’ I was like, ‘you know, you’re right.’ It was nice actually to have your players coach you and get you to understand what you did wrong on the field so the next play you won’t make that mistake. It’s good to get that mistake out of the way, because once you make that mistake as a group, our job is to make sure that it does not happen again within that group. So we limit mistakes each and every day. Even if one person makes it, the whole group can’t make it again.”
Sam Webb: Why is the team so much tighter?
Dymonte Thomas: “Coach Hoke and the seniors did a great job of getting us together outside of football. They brought us together and got us to understand that we have to become a family first before we become a family on the football field. You’ve got guys that never would have talked to each other. Chemistry is getting stronger on this team and it is a great job by Coach Hoke. He understood that one of the problems was that we weren’t close enough outside of football. So it was a great job for us to come together as a unit to make us come together as a unit to make us closer on the field. We actually feel like a family.”
Sam Webb: I’ve known you a while and you talk on the football field. Who talks more you or Jabrill Peppers?
Dymonte Thomas: “Right now, he is young. He is not making all his checks right now. We both do a lot of talking. He does the whole, nickel, nickel, down, down. Or he’ll be like, I’ve got this, I’ve got this, and I’m like, yeah, yeah, yeah. So we both communicate each and every play.”
Sam Webb: I don’t mean that type of talk.
Dymonte Thomas: “Oh, you’re talking about trash talk? (laughter)”
Sam Webb: Yeah, I’m talking about trash talk.
Dymonte Thomas: “Definitely Jabrill. He’s a good kid, a great guy and everything. The thing I like about that kid is that he is high motor. He’s always willing to get to the ball and talk trash. It’s funny because he kind of reminds me of myself when I used to always talk trash. It’s really cool to see a young freshman like that is willing to come in and learn and get better each and every day. He’s not scared to go out there and hit guys, who are like 20 and 21. I’ve got to give big props to him.”
Sam Webb: Does this defense have some swag now?
Dymonte Thomas: “This defense probably has the most swag that I’ve seen now. Starting with Frank and going with Ray and all them. That’s what you need on defense, defense has got to have swag to be good. If you have swag, you play look and comfortable and go out there and make plays.”