Excuse Me

Travis Thomas had to correct himself. It's been nine games now, since he made the move from playing running back to linebacker, but during his Thursday press conference, the senior slipped and said offense when he meant to say defense. While offense and running the ball will always be Thomas' first love, he hasn't slipped much on the field at linebacker, playing very solid for No. 9 Notre Dame.

Thomas, who says he hasn't seen a running back this season other than Munir Prince that he couldn't catch from behind, has added more speed to an Irish defense that is much improved from a year ago. It was a smooth adjustment for him sliding into the second level of the defense, where the 6-foot, 215-pound Thomas has been versatile enough to play both strongside and weakside linebacker.

Even though Thomas looked good from the get go, running down Georgia Tech's Calvin Johnson on the defense's first snap in the season opener, he didn't feel right at home yet.

"I've become more comfortable," said Thomas, who has 29 tackles including five for loss. "I think my technique has gotten a lot better, although there's still room for improvement. I kind of have a sense of what calls are going to be now being in the defense for the number amount of games, nine games now. I see myself being more vocal and able to make calls quicker and react quicker to things on the offensive side of the ball. I just think I've evolved."

Thomas has actually only played in seven games, missing two because of a rib injury.

Against the Yellow Jackets, Thomas had four tackles and a team-high two tackles for loss, helping the defense pitch a second-half shutout, in a 14-10 victory. In that game, Thomas was playing more on instincts, where now he is another leader on the defense.

"The first couple plays were pretty fast," Thomas remembered. "Your reaction time has to be a lot faster. But as the game went on, I felt more comfortable and every game has been pretty much the same."

Or even better. At about the time Notre Dame resurrected its season against Michigan State in the second half, things on the field started to slow down for Thomas. In the Irish's 17-point second-half comeback that sparked a current six-game winning streak, Thomas had a team high eight tackles.

"I felt really comfortable that game, and as things started going good for us in the second half, I had a lot to do with the calls and things like that as far as adjustment," Thomas explained. "I started feeling really comfortable around that time."

Air Force (4-4) will try and make Thomas and the Irish (8-1) uncomfortable with its offensive attack based off deception. Thomas will be faster than anyone the Falcons run out on offense, but it's all about being in the right place and following the ball well.

The Irish have a rough sketch of what Air Force will look like, having beat Navy and it's option attack just two weeks ago.

"You have an idea what to expect," Thomas said. "They're two different teams, though, even though they're similar in some ways. But it's just a lot of preparation, fundamental technique work we're going to have to focus on this game." That's all Thomas said he is focusing on. On track to graduate with a marketing degree, Thomas could leave Notre Dame and test the NFL waters as a possible diamond-in-the-rough inexperienced player, or he could return next season and use his final year of eligibility.

Irish head coach Charlie Weis said that NFL teams are going to have a decision to make on how to use Thomas. In a brief appearances this season, Thomas has showed his explosiveness as a ball carrier, gaining 79 yards on 10 carries with two touchdowns, including a 43-yard burst, ND's longest run from scrimmage.

"I don't know," Thomas said when asked. "It's really not a concern of mine right now, so I'm not going to comment on that."

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