5-11, 196, Sr.
Texas City, Texas
This list of the top veterans and the other list of top emerging players could include a number of the same players, specifically those on the defensive side of the ball. Last season the Cowboys benefitted from experience at defensive tackle. linebacker, and at safety.
Think about it, just like a good baseball defense or a good basketball defense, the Cowboys were strong up the middle. Now with the tackles departed and Orie Lemon and Justin Gent gone from linebacker, that means a lot of new guys will be playing in 2011.
It helps that the Cowboys have a pair of safeties returning in Johnny Thomas and Markelle Martin, and that Daytawion Lowe is back after missing all of the 2010 season with an injury.
Thomas is a talented athlete who began playing a huge role in the secondary as a sophomore (25 tackles and 19 unassisted), and then started last season as a junior. Last season he did it all and all over the field with a couple of very intuitive plays making a difference.
Against Baylor, he adjusted off the called coverage because his zone was empty and kept floating back where he picked off a Robert Griffin pass in the end zone that killed a Baylor drive and really deflated the Bears for the day.
Against Kansas State, is effort on special teams in downing a punt on the 1-yard line and then coming back a couple of plays later with an interception he returned 26 yards for a touchdown put the game away. In a game in which the offense struggled finishing drives and was without Biletnikoff Award-winning wide receiver Justin Blackmon, it's plays like those that can often turn a season.
Thomas finished the season with 63 tackles, 51 unassisted, three interceptions, two fumbles caused, and a fumble recovery. He has also been a huge contributor on special teams. He has played on cover units, but he also averaged 15.5 yards on kickoff returns.
If he can take his play to another level this season, much as he did from his sophomore season to junior campaign, then that could be the difference maker in at least a couple of close games. His play is also critical on the road as he has shown the ability to play as well on the road as he does at home.
The only problem is that Thomas has sometimes found his way to the doghouse off the field. The hope is that Thomas and his teammates realize how important he is to the Cowboys success and everybody responds accordingly.
Thomas is a senior and a leader for this team. They need him and he needs them. We'll give you a big hint in that his partner in the back of the Oklahoma State defense will come up on this list quickly.