As coaches watch over their players with a fine-toothed comb in an effort to examine the level of skill each player has, junior cornerback-turned-safety Steven Thomas has given them quite a bit to look at.
“Really, it’s kind of the same except with how fast a play gets to you,” said Thomas regarding the difference between playing corner and safety. “When you’re out on an island, things get to you much faster. The timing must be made in a split second and you have to react within that timeframe. You’re more out on an island and so the reaction time must be quicker. When you play safety, you have more time to read and react to a situation or read what’s going on and then react.”
Thomas has received a lot of reps over the course of spring practice with the first-team unit and has fared well at the safety position. He even scored a touchdown during last Tuesday’s practice after shooting through a gap on a running play, disrupting the handoff and causing a fumble. He was able to quickly pick up the ball and run it into the end zone.
“I’m just learning all the little details of what it takes to play safety and some of those little details go over to corner too,” said Thomas. “It allows us to be able to go back and forth between the two, but right now I’m really focused on learning and using those little things to my advantage at the safety position. So far it’s been going really good for me over spring practice.”
Thomas doesn’t take all the credit for any early success he may have over spring camp, however.
Since the beginning of winter workouts, Thomas has received some valuable help in learning and understanding all the tenets of playing the safety position successfully. Former Cougar safety and position master Scott Johnson had returned to voluntarily help Thomas since the start of winter.
“Scotty had started this at the beginning of the year when we started winter workouts,” said Thomas. “He worked with me every Friday and we went over film and everything else. We spent a lot of time going over things in detail.”
Having Johnson take Thomas under his wing has been very beneficial for the new junior safety.
“Every week I learned more and more,” Thomas said. “I feel every week I knew more and more, from being up at the board to running through stuff. He basically quizzed me up on the board and would ask me questions and give me scenarios that I had to answer on the board. I’m really thankful for him and his help.
“He worked with us in the film room and we got up on the board and he worked me through some things. We went through all different kinds of scenarios, well, all scenarios and all the different kinds of checks we have to do. He really taught me just about everything from a player’s point of view. Coach Hill is teaching me everything, but it’s a little different coming from a [recent] player.”
Johnson provides Thomas with a unique viewpoint, having started at safety for BYU last year.
“It’s a little different from his perspective on the field and from what he sees and from that position, what he feels he needs to do in a certain situation,” said Thomas. “He’s basically retained that understanding from a player’s perspective and has passed that onto me. Everything he’s learned from Coach Hill and as a player he has passed down onto me, and I now feel I’m much more successful because of that little extra understanding on the field.”
Like Thomas is now doing, Johnson had to make to change from corner to safety during his time at BYU. His knowledge of what that takes has helped Thomas progress faster than he otherwise might have.
“I’ve been able to perform at a higher level more and more every week because of the understanding Scotty had of the defense and shared with me,” Thomas said. “I feel like over spring practice I’ve been able to make more plays. I feel like I’m further ahead because of the extra work that I was able to do with Scotty. He could see and knew where people needed to be and was able to tell everyone what to do. If someone wasn’t doing something right, he knew what they were doing wrong and could correct them. That part is starting to come along for me. I’m not quite 100 percent there yet but I’m getting there.”
To get to 100 percent, Thomas just needs a little more time to match what he’s learned off the field with the scenarios that occur during practice.
“I need more film time and more practice time to see how it all fits together,” Thomas said. “I’m getting a lot of it down and understand more than I’ve ever understood, but I think that’s where all the off-field work and understanding can be transferred into a better understanding. When you go through something on the football field that’s taught to you and are successful at it, then it sticks with you.”