Carlos Thomas: More Physical, More Confident

Junior cornerback Carlos Thomas took his lumps last season, working in his first full year as a cornerback in the SEC. However, after a strong offseason in which he has bulked up physically and developed a newfound confidence, Thomas appears ready to realize the potential that made him one of the most highly touted prospects in the country coming out of high school in 2005.

Carlos Thomas burst onto the scene as a true freshman in week two of the 2005 season. Part of a heralded group of receivers who were supposed to be the next great group of Steve Spurrier pass catchers, Thomas made his first impact play on defense. Needing another body at corner, Thomas stepped on the field at the end of the first half in Athens,GA and on his very first defensive snap, intercepted Georgia quarterback D.J. Shockley in the end zone. From that point on, it became evident that Thomas' future was on defense. He officially made the change following his freshman season, and now with a full season of experience at the position, he thinks he is ready to be the Gamecocks' next shutdown corner.

As a freshman splitting time between offense and defense, Thomas was never asked to do anything other than play man coverage. It was not until his sophomore season that he began to learn more complex coverages and varied defensive responsibilities. His inexperience showed at times last season, as he failed to find any consistency. With future NFL draft pick Fred Bennett on one side of the field; Thomas and freshman Captain Munnerlyn split time on the other side. Now that Bennett is playing for the Houston Texans, Thomas will now be lining up opposite Munnerlyn, one of his closest friends on the team. Although the secondary struggled to make plays last year, Thomas is confident that this year will be different.

"We know we have a lot of talent in the secondary," he said recently after practice. "I think a lot of people are going to be surprised. Last year everyone was young: it was my first year as a full-time corner; Captain was a freshman; [and] Brandon Isaac wasn't there. Now everyone has a real year under their belt and everyone is ready to play. We have more speed, probably, than we've ever had in the secondary. We've got three corners that run a 4.3 [40-yard sprint], safeties that run a 4.4."

Carlos Thomas and Brandon Isaac converge on wide receiver Moe Brown during USC's Garnet and Black Game this past April.

Whenever the subject of speed comes up, the next question invariably involves Chris Culliver, the highly touted recruit who has been timed at 4.27 in the forty yard dash. Munnerlyn said he has challenged Culliver to a race, but the wide receiver has so far dodged the challenge. Thomas prides himself on being one of the fastest players on the team, saying, "it's between me and Captain."

Pressed on who would win in a footrace between Culliver, Munnerlyn, and himself, Thomas felt confident about who would win.

"Culliver, he's a fast guy," Thomas said. "Not to take anything from him, but he was a 10.5 [seconds in the 100-meters] guy in high school, and me and Captain were 10.3 in high school."

Thomas is proud of his speed, but that is not what he thinks will be his greatest asset on the field this year. Three years in Mark Smith's weight program have enabled Thomas to add 20 pounds of muscle to his frame without losing a step. He says the added size and strength will give him the opportunity to be more of a playmaker.

"When you don't have that much weight, you think twice about going up against a big receiver," he explained. "I'm playing aggressive now. I think that's going to be my biggest improvement. I have my confidence up to a level where I am ready to attack, hit, [and] pass defend. Coming in at corner, being 170 pounds, six foot, you're not really ready to attack these big guys, especially your first year. [With experience], now I know where to be, what to do, I'm not just running around out there like a chicken with his head cut off."

Even though Thomas is no longer a headless chicken, but a full-fledged Gamecock, he still has to deal with getting beat in coverage. He admits that sometimes he wants to hang his head, but he knows better, and secondary coach Ron Cooper will not allow him to get down on himself.

"Coach Cooper tells us every day, ‘You've got to have amnesia.' If you make a bad play in practice, he's going to be on you, but the next day you come into meetings and it's forgotten about. You've got to go back out there and keep your head up and get ready to make another play."

Getting over a catch is relatively easy. Giving up six points is much harder to get over.

"It's hard to give up a touchdown and not think about it," he said, "but you can try to prolong it until after the game because you've got to come back out the next play. The next play, you're ready to get after that guy that scored on you."

Thomas was named the Co-Most Improved Cornerback on the team in the spring and is off to a strong start thus far in fall camp. With a more physical mindset and a newfound confidence on the field, Thomas appears primed for a breakout season in 2007.

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