Thomas finds a home

Upon switching from defensive line to offensive line last November, one Tennessee Vol took a lot of grief from his former D-line mates.

"They said I didn't look right in a white jersey," Victor Thomas recalls with a laugh.

He does now, though. After scarcely playing during his four years on defense, Thomas is blossoming on the other side of the scrimmage line as a fifth-year senior. The 6-3, 282-pounder is the Vols' No. 1 center this spring and appears likely to start there when the 2010 season opens in September.

Given how undistinguished his career as a Vol defender had been, Thomas was happy to change sides when offensive coordinator Jim Chaney suggested the move to center late last season.

"Around the Ole Miss game Coach Chaney approached me and said I had a great opportunity," Thomas said, "so I jumped on it."

Although Thomas played some offensive tackle at Olive Branch (Miss.) High School, Chaney envisioned him at center.

"The guys we had there (Cody and Cory Sullins) were seniors, and there was nobody else," Thomas said. "And I think they (offensive coaches) liked my athletic abilities, too."

The switch to center has been "a major adjustment," he said, adding: "First, dealing with the snap, and then basically being the quarterback of the offensive line."

Thomas experienced a lot of growing pains at the new position initially. He believes he is making steady progress, however.

"My snaps are getting better," he said. "I'm having fewer on the ground, so I'm coming along with the snaps. It's a matter of balancing your stance because you're going to get hit as soon as you snap the ball."

Thomas' job would be easier if the Vols had a clearcut No. 1 quarterback. They don't. Thus, he is working with four QBs this spring - senior Nick Stephens, junior Matt Simms, sophomore Nick Lamaison and freshman Tyler Bray. Developing a comfort level with each guy is no small task but Thomas feels he is getting there.

"I'm getting a better rhythm each and every practice," he said. "We work before practice and after practice, so our rhythm is getting there."

With all five starters missing from the 2009 offensive line, the Vols face a major overhaul of their blocking front this spring. Thomas sees that as both a negative and a positive.

"Nothing is easy," he said, "but if it was easy, anybody could do it. All of us is starting with no experience and working together toward getting better.

"We're starting to mesh. Each and every day we're getting better. That's our goal: To improve each and every practice."

After spending last season as a third-team defensive tackle, Thomas thoroughly enjoys being a first-teamer ... even if he's on the other side of the ball.

"It's great," he said. "I have a great opportunity to be the No. 1 center, and I'm trying to take advantage of it."

The only drawback he sees in playing center is all of the verbal abuse he takes from his pals in the D-line at practice.

"They kid me all the time," he said, grinning broadly. "They mess with me after every play. If they make a play they're on my head and if I make a player I'm on their head."

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