The move is a no-brainer, given Tennessee's glaring lack of depth at defensive tackle. Junior college transfer John Brown is still trying to get cleared to play and projected starter Marlon Walls is out indefinitely with an Achilles injury. Still, Thomas was a little surprised to be moved.
"My parents figured I would," he said, "but I wasn't sure yet."
He got the word at around noon.
"Coach (Derek) Dooley actually called me into his office after chapel this morning," Thomas recalled. "He told me about our situation at D-tackle, with all the guys going down. He said we're thin and need bodies over there."
That's essentially the same speech Thomas heard last spring, when a lack of bodies in the O-line prompted a shift from defense to offense. After spending a few weeks as the No. 1 center, however, Thomas surrendered the first-team job to junior Cody Pope, who has spent most of his Vol career in the offensive front. When Dooley signed center Darin Gooch out of the junior college ranks in May, Thomas became somewhat expendable. Still, he felt he had a shot to be the No. 1 center come fall.
"I felt like I was in a pretty good situation to start," he said, "but Coach Dooley said it was a better opportunity over here (defense)."
Despite being moved twice in a matter of months, Thomas remains upbeat about his situation.
"I was excited to help the team out, either way I could," he said. "This is just another opportunity for me to get on the field."
Back in defensive drills during this afternoon's practice, He admitted he felt "kind of odd in the beginning ... just watching. But once I got back into the rotation, it came back to me pretty quick."
Although he has spent most of his career on defense, Thomas finds himself behind the other tackle prospects. Because he toiled all spring at center, he knows nothing about the new scheme first-year defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox is installing. In addition, Thomas knows nothing about the new techniques first-year defensive line coach Chuck Smith is teaching.
Catching up will be a challenge but Thomas isn't worried.
"I'm going to meet with Coach Smith when we have down time," he said, "and try to catch up with the guys who have already been learning."
Thomas said the toughest adjustment in returning to tackle is "getting used to the double-teams and attacking off the ball. The leverage is a lot different. I have to be a lot lower."
In retrospect, the time he spent at center appears wasted. He doesn't see it that way, however.
"It was a benefit," Thomas said. "I know how offensive linemen are (thinking) now. I know their weaknesses and know how to attack 'em better. It was actually a learning process for me."
Asked the big difference between defensive line and offensive line, Thomas smiled and replied, "It's a lot more running. A LOT more running."