Thomas Prepped For Strong Season At Weak Side

JT Thomas is primed for a breakout season, threatening to crack the starting lineup with just three spots available and arguably the deepest field of linebackers West Virginia has ever possessed.

The sophomore, son of former WVU linebacker J.T. Thomas, was medically redshirted last season after an ankle sprain was consistently aggravated during drills. That enabled him to focus more on the mental aspect of the game, something the 6-2, 220-pounder grasped well during spring, elevating his status with position coach and defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel and penciling his name into the will (weakside) linebacker slot in front of veteran Mortty Ivy, who recovered from an ACL tear early last summer.

"Being redshirted last year makes you more hungry," said Thomas, whose father, James, played for WVU from 1994-95, recording 222 tackles, 12 for loss, and six sacks. "The biggest difference between last summer and this summer is that I thought I knew what was going on (last year), but I had no idea. This summer and over the spring I have learned so much more. I have a feel for the defense; I know where my help is, where I am supposed to be. Your body will get you there. But you have to know where to go, which way to run. The goals are always to be better than you were last year."

The coaching staff has hinted that they will install new schemes and looks within the passing defense that allow players like Eric Wicks and Charles Pugh to slide in and out of their positions to give opposing teams another look – think Pittsburgh Steelers' Troy Polamalu, who moves around often prior to the snap. What's also guaranteed is that with the depth at linebacker, Thomas, Reed Williams (middle/mike) and Johnny Holmes (strongside/sam) will yield the positions at times to others with better strength or run-stuffing skills. The trio is likely the quickest and fastest lineup the Mountaineers can place on the field, but in terms of pure power and short-yardage situations, looks with Marc Magro and Bobby Hathaway could prove better.

"I have not seen anything like this before," Thomas said. "We are deep at every position. Our third-teamers are good guys. We have players at all three positions. It's going to be a real fun training camp because there is so much competition. Everyone has someone to push them. People tend to play harder when they know they have someone pushing them. I just want to get out there and help the team anyway I can, be that starting or as a backup or on special teams.

"I am glad I came when I did because I learned a lot from Jay Henry and Boo McLee. Henry is one of the true students of the game, studies everything and Boo is one of the hardest players. But we are deeper this year. Marc Magro is the best it gets here. He is the definition of Mountaineer strength and conditioning. Marc leads everything and makes sure we do everything the right way. And I saw Archie Sims break on the ball once in seven on seven and almost (hurt) a guy. He is explosive."

Sims, a 6-0, 210-pound junior college transfer, is already in Morgantown and will report for fall practice, with the rest of the team, on Aug. 4. He runs well and could also factor into the return game, especially important this season as NCAA rules have moved the ball back to the 30-yard line for kickoffs.

Most players are indicating the squad will have a general idea of who fits where by the second to third week of fall camp. In the front six, WVU had two to three players at every slot. End Johnny Dingle, nose tackle Chris Nield and tackle Keilen Dykes will get the initial chances with the first team. Scooter Berry, Thor Merrow and James Ingram are at the twos with Doug Slavonic working in as well. Ovid Goulbourne is in the mix at linebacker with Anthony Leonard and newcomer Pat Lazear, a frosh from Bethesda, Md. with considerable potential and raw skill.

"I am excited about this season," Thomas said. "Everyone on the team is. In the locker room and at the lifts people are all getting geeked up for the practices. But you never know what will happen until you get out of training camp. I don't want to speak to what will happen during the season. You work so hard in the summer, you can't wait to use your new powers. You are ready to show all that work on the field."

Note: Thomas said his father would indeed be able to start in the current Mountaineer lineup. James "JT" Thomas, like his son JT a Fort Lauderdale native, had six pass breakups, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and one interception along with his 222 tackles (139 solo) in his two seasons.

"He had a knack for the football," Thomas said of his father. "He ran a 4.6 in the 40, but on game film he looks like he ran a 4.4. He had game speed. I got a chance to see a lot of his film, so I know what he can do and can't, and I think he would have broken into the lineup."

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