Thomas at home at last
Friday, August 12, 2011
By Paul Zeise, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Matt Freed/Post-Gazette
All smiles: Pitt coach Todd Graham shares a laugh with Todd Thomas (4) as the team takes part in media day Monday.

Redshirt freshman Todd Thomas' talent has never been in question. But, strangely, his athleticism, speed and size have worked against him because coaches believed he could fit so many positions.

As former standout tight end Dorin Dickerson learned during his career at Pitt, a player capable of playing more than one position often becomes a player without a home who bounces around the depth chart for four years.

In Dickerson's case, the coaches figured out where he fit by his senior season. That doesn't seem to be the case with Thomas (6 feet 2, 220 pounds), who is similar in size and athleticism to Dickerson, but has landed at spur linebacker.

"This position is perfect for me," Thomas said. "I can use my speed, my quickness and, for me, this is just a perfect position. It is way different than safety, you have to be able to play the run and be strong and quick and know where your alignments are.

"But, I love it, this is a great fit for what I think I can do."

Thomas, from Beaver Falls, was an all-state receiver in high school, but he was academically ineligible. Instead of going directly to Pitt, he enrolled at Milford Academy and became one of the highest rate prep school players in the country at safety.

His versatility was obvious at Beaver Falls High School, where he played receiver, running back, defensive back and linebacker.

He enrolled at Pitt in the spring of 2010, bouncing frequently between offense and defense while the previous coaching staff tried to figure out what position suited him best.

In October, he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. That ended his season and also resulted in his missing spring practice. He admitted, however, that he was excited about first-year coach Todd Graham's offensive and defensive systems because they both rely on speed and athleticism.

"I felt like this was supposed to happen for me," Thomas said. "I knew I would find a place to fit in. The big thing was just learning it all and then getting up to the speed of things since I missed the spring. But I'm getting used to it. I know I just need to be a ball hawk out there."

Thomas is the second-team spur behind senior Greg Williams, but he has shared some first-team time this week in preseason camp and believes he will get plenty of opportunities to make plays.

The spur position is a hybrid of safety and linebacker. Generally, the spur will line up on the wide side of the ball not the short side and is expected to make plays in the open field. He also blitz or cover slot receivers.

That requires versatility and physicality.

"He's so explosive," said defensive coordinator Keith Patterson of Thomas. "The ball will be thrown for negative yardage, you know, behind the line of scrimmage, and he is sitting there on it and has the ability to make those tackles in space.

"And he's an explosive blitzer off the edge. He is extremely athletic, he's mobile and versatile and he has nice range. He is going to do some great things, he is a great fit for this scheme. I feel really good about that position with him."

Graham added: "Todd's a tremendous athlete, he is very physical, he is competitive and I like the fact that he gets out there and he plays. He just turns it loose and plays. He is very coachable and he wants to be good."

Thomas said that his journey from Beaver Falls two-sport superstar (he also excelled in basketball) to Pitt's two-deep roster hasn't been without some bumps, but he wouldn't trade his experience.

"My mom [Jodie] kept me motivated through the whole experience; she just told me to work hard and keep pushing and so I never quit," Thomas said. "But I learned through the struggle ... [that] you have to keep playing hard, keep trying."

NOTES -- Redshirt sophomore tight end Brock DeCicco wasn't at practice and is consider transferring. The coaching staff has told him to think about things until Saturday before making a final decision. DeCicco was recruited to play in the former staff's traditional pro-style offense and fits that role perfectly, but doesn't fit into Graham's spread offense. DeCicco, from Thomas Jefferson High School, is the younger brother of former Pitt safety Dom DeCicco . ... Kicker Kevin Harper has had an excellent camp and Thursday he made a 57-yard field goal. ... Shane Gordon moved ahead of Tristan Roberts , at least for one day, at one of the inside-linebacker spots. Gordon took most of the first-team reps alongside Max Gruder , but Patterson said it was only because Gordon had a better day Wednesday than Roberts and added the competition there is "day to day."