Almost four years ago, Oklahoma safety Ahmad Thomas came on to campus as an early enrollee. He had plans of learning the plays early and getting comfortable in what he soon learned was an elaborate defense.
It’s a defensive scheme that relied on a lot of late calls and adjustments – sometimes down to the last second before the ball is snapped. He was a bit lost as a young player, needing to get up to the speed of the college game on special teams.
For a while, it was a struggle for Thomas, who wasn’t reacting fast enough on the back end of the Oklahoma defense. He didn’t believe what he saw as the starting free safety as a sophomore and was routinely late into position. That led to missed tackles and busted coverage.
Now, he smiles when asked about his importance against Oklahoma State’s vertical passing attack. He’s ready. He’s learned.
“Of course, I noticed,” Thomas said. “. . . I like that.”
Thomas, a Miami-native, has interceptions in back-to-back games after having just two interceptions his entire career before Oklahoma’s victory against Baylor last week. He’ll be in the spotlight again this week against an Oklahoma State passing offense that has seven passes plays of 50 yards or further.
“I’m preparing very well for that,” Thomas said. “I’m watching a lot of film.”
Film has made the difference for Thomas, who is in his second year as a starter at free safety. He said last year that he watched film just once a week. Now, he watches every day – before and after practice. He takes tests on the days before the game to make sure he can recognize certain plays and identify reads. As Thomas said: “It’s the detailed coaching.”
Thomas has also taken a natural step in his reaction time.
“His range has gotten better,” Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “He’s protecting our guys better in the middle of the field. . . . He reacts to plays better. He’s getting better jumps on the ball. He’s seeing the quarterback better and reacting better. And his range has gotten better. He’s showing good range in the middle of the field to cover up those corners.”
In his first full year as a starter, Jordan Thomas has three interceptions and pointed to Ahmad Thomas as a big reason why he was able to shut down All-Big 12 wide receiver Corey Coleman when Oklahoma beat Baylor two weeks ago.
Sanchez has tied a career-high with six interceptions and has two games with two picks.
Oklahoma starting cornerbacks can be more aggressive with an improved Ahmad Thomas behind them. Sanchez jumped a slant route against TCU, and at times this season, Sanchez said he and Jordan Thomas have been able to guess on routes because of Ahmad Thomas’ willingness to just play centerfield.
“It’s always good to have a guy like that on the back end,” Sanchez said. “It lets us play aggressive and lets us play free knowing we have a guy that’s going to help us out.”