"On the Spot" with CB Michael "MT3"
Following Saturday morning's excellent Practice #6, The Bootleg's "Emeritus" managed to grab a few footloose and fun moments with one of the most irresistible personalities on the Cardinal defense, versatile sophomore cornerback Michael Thomas, also known as "MT3". This young man is not only an unbelievable athlete, but he has a great sense of humor and his smile is tailor-made for future holding of the Stanford Axe! Note: This interview was 100% unrehearsed as we didn't realize we'd be having a chance to talk to Thomas until the opportunity suddenly arose.
On-Field, Post-Practice Interview on Saturday, August 15, 2009
The Bootleg: We're here with second-year (true sophomore) cornerback, nickelback, who knows - return man or maybe even "wildcat quarterback" - Michael Thomas. Michael – you're happy to be on the football field any time you can?
Michael Thomas: Yes sir. Any place, anywhere, I'm just trying to make a play.
TB: Is there anywhere you won't play? Blind-side tackle, maybe?
MT: (Laughing) Nah, not that I know of.
TB: First of all let's talk about today's practice. You had an "above-average" practice even by your own high standards. What was going on today? You just had the radar going in the secondary?
MT: Basically, as defensive backs ever since the summer we took it upon ourselves not to be looked at as the weak link on this team. I mean we just wanted to step it up.
TB: Was there that sense before, in your mind, that the group was being viewed as a "weak link"?
MT: Yes sir. I mean it's obvious, it's "out there". We saw it as a team last year. We just took it upon ourselves to try to make plays. Today, it just clicked in my mind. I have to start now, I can't wait until tomorrow.
TB: So you're not just going to let the defensive line dominate over your unit's personality – the "back seven" is going to step it up?
MT: Yes sir. They take care of whatever they can take care of up front, but we need to make the plays back here.
TB: Who's helping to shape that personality in the secondary?
MT: To be honest, I mean people probably see its Richard Sherman. Ever since he moved over from wide receiver there's just been a whole different swagger about the defensive backs. I mean, we want to make plays and we want to believe in ourselves. So his being over there just changed our whole persona. And I'm just taking it on and trying to run with it!
TB: Talking about teammates you have another new backfield mate there in Delano Howell. What does he bring to the secondary?
MT: Delano is bringing physicality and just a new smart type of defensive back. Just everybody knowing their signs. You have Bo McNally knowing all that stuff and making sure we all know With Delano coming in and learning fast its forcing all the other defensive backs to make sure they're on it. Everyone's on the same page so I love having Delano back there.
TB: So we know Sherman's a big-time play-maker, Bo's a ball-hawk, Delano can hit the heck out of people and run with the ball. What's "Michael Thomas" going to be known for in 2009? [Note: It is "Emeritus" having fun referring to Michael in the "Bo Knows" third-person, not Thomas himself.]
MT: "Michael Thomas" will be known for getting on the field and making the big play any chance he gets. "Michael Thomas" will try to make the picks when he gets to it like he tried to do today but more so just doing whatever he has to do to help his teammates.
TB: So what's with these PBUs ("pass break-ups")? We want to see the pick-six, pal!
MT: (Laughing) Exactly. One of the first times I was on the field, I got a pick-six then the rest of them were PBUs. I've been going up with one hand - I need to start going up with two hands.
TB: You're certainly not a "small" football player, but you're not the tallest guy in our secondary either. In practice let's say you're going up against a tall receiver like a Warren Reuland or Coby Fleener in a pattern– you're giving up some height there. Are you going to make that up on position, on technique, on vertical, or all of the above?
MT: It's all of the above. Working with Coach (Clayton) White and Coach (Ron) Lynn I've really worked on my technique, getting myself in the right positions to make those plays. Even with those big receivers, if you're in the right place at the right time you can make those plays.
TB: "Backpedaling" is not a natural gift, is it? You have to work at that kind of thing?
MT: Yes, you have to work on that. Playing quarterback in high school, I didn't backpedal really until I got here. Just something I picked up on and work on every day to get better and better.
TB: Without giving away anything competitively about our ‘Wildcat' ("direct snap") plans, you certainly have to be one of our options. Coach Willie Taggart, with his background, he must look at you and go "Hmm, I remember a guy who has some of those same skills" – you and Coach Taggart must have a pretty good relationship…
MT: Yeah, we do. On and off the field Coach Taggart and I talk it up, chat it up about school, football, and everything. But with the ‘Wildcat' formation, they always tell me, ‘Mike, don't get too comfortable in the secondary. Be ready any time coach might want to grab you.'
TB: If you do get the ball in the ‘Wildcat' can you throw, or are they just going to have you run it?
MT: I'm trying to convince Coach Harbaugh that I can throw the ball, but he doesn't trust me (laughing).
TB: We had one little, how shall we put it... "ball security problem" when we (as in you) ran it last year – that's not going to happen again, will it? How many points on the ball are you going to hold next year?
MT: (Laughing) All eight points, nine if it's possible. I mean, I want to be able to show them that I can be responsible when I'm back there and just get back there and make a play I want to show them that I can do it.
TB: With the nickel package you're not going to be satisfied, just being in there as the "nickel guy" you're always going to be competing for a full-time gig, right? You don't want to be labeled a "nickel guy".
MT: I'm glad you asked that. That's one thing we've been doing this whole summer leading up to the fall. You got a swag-type player in Sherman, Corey Gatewood, who's just a technician out there, and a savvy veteran in Kris Evans. And then you've got me - we're all competing for the same spot. It's just what are you doing to show the coaches that you need to be on the field. I mean, I think I took a step forward today, but all those guys are competing just as hard as I am. It's just trying to make the plays and show the coaches why you need to be on the field.
TB: As fans we get excited when you guys make a pick and try to take it "to the house". I'm not going to leave anyone out because they can all do it, but you and Gatewood and Sherman, I mean there's got to be a little bit of friendly competition out there to see who's going to make that happen and score some points for Stanford defense this year...
MT: Yeah, yes sir. Being on the field on Saturdays when the season starts, that's when you'll tell, but so far I'm leading the pack right now. (laughing)
TB: Are you guys keeping track of those stats?
MT: Actually, we are. Coach White and Coach Lynn do that, but the defensive backs keep track a little bit too.
TB: Do you sense Coach White has communicated to the crew adequately that you fellahs need to step your game up this year? After all, he's part of that collective commitment to get better, right?
MT: Yes sir. Coach White feels that the defensive backs need to have a mentality that we want the game to be on us and that we want the team to look to us to make a big play. We just have to get to that point by continuing to work hard, but yes, he's forcing it. The whole defense is forcing it, Coach Lynn is forcing it and Coach Harbaugh is forcing it. The offense is looking to us to make plays!
TB: So, as a cornerback, do you want to be a "lockdown guy" or do you want to be an "intimidator"? What do you want your personality to be out there? When a receiver comes out there and sees #3 lining up, what do want them to see or feel?
MT: I don't want them to think of me as just a lockdown corner or just somebody who's going to be real physical. I want them to see me as someone who's the "total package" - where if you throw it my way, I have the ability to make the big play, make the big hit, catch the interception, or just play coverage and bat it down. I want to be the "total package".
TB: You've been beaten occasionally in practice – Not often, but we're not going to say it's never happened. When it does happen, are you a bounce-back guy?
MT: Yes sir, you have to bounce back. You can't think about that play - you got to move on to the next just like when you make an interception or a bat down, you have to go on to the next play. I can do that.
TB: So I know it's only been what, six practices so far, but who's been a tough cover?
MT: Everybody could say Chris Owusu just because of his speed, but honestly its Ryan Whalen. He runs some of the best routes and has some of the best hands on the team. For me, just from guarding the receivers that I guarded last year, Ryan has some of the best hands in the Pac-10. Ryan Whalen is a tough match-up for anybody.
TB: You like football Michael? [a purely rhetorical question since I myself am feeding off Michael's high energy!]
MT: Yes sir, I LOVE football!!
TB: Are you going to look forward to two-a-days now? Are you in condition for that?
MT: Coach Turley really stepped it up this summer. We're in tip-top shape for conditioning, so two-a-days won't be that bad. It's just getting our legs back and taking care of ourselves in the training room.
TB: Outstanding. Thank you, young man. We appreciate your enthusiasm and look forward to a big season.
(Big smile) All right, no problem!
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