Sophomore Thomas Ready for Big Season

The question mark entering the 2008 season was the inexperience in the secondary and in particular, the two freshman safeties, Blake Gideon and Earl Thomas. As a second year starter, the West Orange-Stark product is in position to make more plays and lead the defensive troops. Thomas has adapted well to his new role according to his teammates.

Colt McCoy, when asked about the standouts in the secondary, listed the entire two-deep as guys to keep an eye on as having a big year. After some pressing and a question about his two interceptions by sophomore safety Earl Thomas in the first practice in pads, the ultra-competitive McCoy noted that one of those picks would not have been allowed in a game for pass interference.

Whether the call would have been made or not, Thomas has clearly shown that he has the potential for a big season, both in production and as a team leader.

"It's all about growing up. Last year I was younger, this year I have to take it upon myself. Coach (Muschamp) had a meeting with me and he told me I need to step up and be a vocal leader out there because I've got to help Blake (Gideon) out. He's the quarterback of the defense, everybody knows. I don't want him to have that responsibility by himself, I want to help him out the best that I can," Thomas said this week.

Most of the defensive focus this spring and summer has been on increasing the number of turnovers created. In 2008, the Longhorns produced only six interceptions while facing 491 pass attempts. Thomas had two of those interceptions, but led the team in pass break-ups with 17. This year, Thomas wants to convert those balls that he gets his hands on into interceptions.

"I had a lot of opportunities last year to catch balls and I dropped them," Thomas said. "We've been working real hard on that in the summer, doing different ball drills and just working on grip and doing everything we can to help this team."

Thomas has also been tasked with increasing his leadership on the defense after the stop force lost emotional leaders Roy Miller and Brian Orakpo to the NFL. It is not often a sophomore has an opportunity to step into the role, but Thomas has not been shy about it.

Wide out James Kirkendoll, who also is seeing his role expand this season, has faced Thomas quite a bit for the three years since the two joined the team in the 2007 recruiting class. Kirkendoll has always thought Thomas would be special.

When asked who the vocal leader of the defense is, Kirkendoll said, "It's got to be Earl Thomas. That's the most competitive dude I have ever met. He's a good player…I always thought when we first came in he was real competitive then, and I knew he was going to be good. After last year's season, I really saw that he is a big time player."

The guy many hoped would be a vocal leader, Sergio Kindle, thinks senior defensive tackle Lamarr Houston and Earl Thomas are filling that role well.

On the vocal leader of the defense, Kindle said, "It's still Lamarr (Houston). And even Earl Thomas is kind of more a vocal guy. If they are expecting me to be vocal, it's just not going to happen."

If Thomas and his defensive teammates can improve on the 16 turnovers created last season (10 fumbles and 6 interceptions) which was last in the Big 12 to even middle of the pack, the Longhorns have a very good chance to improve on last year's 12-1 results.

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