BATON ROUGE, La. -- Dwayne Thomas didn’t even open LSU’s preseason practice on the same field as the starters, but a few weeks later he’s a leading contender to become a starting cornerback.
Thomas said after Monday’s practice that he’s getting lots of work at cornerback opposite third-year starter Tre’Davious White when the Tigers are in their base defensive package, plus he has taken over as the injured Jalen Mills’ replacement at nickelback.
“I knew probably from Day 1 that I had to push these guys, but coming out here and making a lot of plays, I knew that [defensive backs coach Corey] Raymond would look towards me and be like he wants somebody out there that he trusts and that can be consistent and make plays,” Thomas said. “A lot of our guys have been doing that, and that’s why it’s so hard to keep a job on this defense, so I have to bust my tail every day to try to maintain being a starter.”
When the Tigers opened camp, the team held two practices per day -- the starters working in a morning session and a collection of mostly reserves, freshmen and walk-ons working in the afternoon. Thomas, returning from a torn ACL that knocked him out of the second half of the 2014 season, practiced in the afternoons.
However, anyone who witnessed how integral he was to LSU’s defense in the first half of last season could have predicted that a healthy Thomas would be just as important in 2015, if not more so. He’s no longer just a guy who flies around the field when the Tigers shift to a dime defense or bounce around at safety or corner. Now he’s playing a more traditional role.
There are some differences, but Thomas welcomes the opportunity to cover the outside receivers, too.
“It’s pretty much the same thing. It’s just now, that wide side of the field, it can get scary over there by yourself,” Thomas chuckled.
Raymond is no doubt still working to figure out how to utilize the extensive talent available in his secondary, even in Mills’ absence. Not only is there the four-man battle for the cornerback job that includes Thomas, Ed Paris, early enrollee Kevin Toliver and blazing-fast freshman Donte Jackson, there is the decision over when and how to use safeties Corey Thompson and Xavier Lewis, among others.
Determining how to divide snaps at corner is probably job No. 1, however, and even White said he doesn’t have a strong idea of how Raymond might divvy up playing time.
“I really don’t go into practice just looking to see, ‘OK, who’s going to be the guy?’ I don’t look at it like that. I’m going to cheer for all three, all four,” White said. “Whoever it is, I’m going to cheer for them. We’re just have a close-knit [group] off the field and I feel like when we’re on the field, it’s just a big competition.”
For now, it’s apparently Thomas, although he realizes that his cornerback competitors have enough time to overtake him between today’s scrimmage and the Sept. 5 opener against McNeese State.
“I just wanted to push Ed and let him know that, ‘I’m right here and I want to help you be better.’ If not, if I can move forward and get ahead, that’s just a team decision to go with [me],” Thomas said.
“But now that he’s in that position, he’s pushing me forward, so I have to bring my A-game every day to work, and that’s just what it’s all about on this level and the next level. You have to bring your A-game to every practice when you’ve got guys battling for one position, and there’s four of us.”