BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — LSU defensive back Dwayne Thomas doesn't hesitate to run his mouth on the field.
If his early season play is a sign of things to come, opposing receivers may tire of the sound of his voice.
Thomas has emerged as the 10th-ranked Tigers' second-leading tackler through LSU's opening two games and snagged his first-career interception last Saturday night when he hauled in an overthrown flea-flicker against Sam Houston State.
The 2012 recruit from one of New Orleans' powerhouse high school programs saw the early part of his career derailed by groin injuries, but now is starting to look more like the play-making force in the secondary LSU thought it was getting all along.
"Coming out this season, starting off strong, being out there more and knowing the entire defense, I just feel comfortable, getting back to my normal self and just playing football, having fun out there with the other 10 guys," Thomas said this week. "Knowing the defense makes it easier for me now, now that I can just see everything, do my job and plays are just coming to me now."
Thomas still hasn't cracked the starting lineup yet, but he's rotating in regularly at safety, a position LSU moved him to in the spring after he'd began his career primarily at cornerback. The change has caused a spike in production. He had five tackles in LSU's season opener at Wisconsin, and added seven tackles last weekend.
His 12 tackles are more than he had all of last season, when he was only getting on the field as the "dime" back in six-defensive back formations.
"At safety this past spring it came natural to me to have a knack for the ball in the air, or to come down on the running backs, fill the gaps," Thomas said. "It seems easier to me."
Thomas was an All-State player and widely rated as a four-star cornerback recruit coming out of O. Perry Walker High School, which has since merged with nearby L.B. Landry High School in the Algiers section of New Orleans, right across the Mississippi River from downtown.
As a freshman at LSU, he was eager to learn from former Heisman Trophy candidate and current Arizona Cardinals defensive back Tyrann Mathieu. Although Mathieu wound up leaving the Tigers just before that season because of failed drug tests, Thomas practiced with him enough to learn some lessons that he takes on the field now.
"Play fast, play smart, learn your plays and be a ball hawk and an animal out there on the field," Thomas said in summarizing Mathieu's advice. "Talk trash if you want to. Talk trash if you have to. If that's going to bring up your game, be out there making noise. Talk to your opponents, let them know you're here."
Because of connections both through high school and LSU, Thomas has become acquainted with a number of NFL players from whom he's constantly seeking to learn.
He has spent parts of his offseason working out with New York Giants defensive back Corey Webster, a former LSU star who often returns to Baton Rouge. From White, Thomas said he learned to take his post-workout recovery more seriously, so he would feel ready to work even harder the next day.
His relationships with New Orleans Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis and Miami Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace goes back to when he was a ball boy at O. Perry Walker for former coach Frank Wilson, who is now the running backs coach at LSU.
Lewis and Wallace were Walker teammates then. They've since paid periodic visits to their old high school program, working with younger players. Among them was Thomas, who tried covering Wallace on a post route before heading off to his first fall camp at LSU. It was a humbling experience.
"He accelerated away from me," Thomas recalled.
Still, Lewis saw a lot of potential in Thomas, and still does.
"I'm very proud of him, just to watch him come from the park to Walker to where he is now," Lewis said this week after a Saints practice in New Orleans. "That's a guy who works extremely hard. His skills are amazing. ... He'll be on this (NFL) level and I'm just waiting on him with open arms."
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Posted on Fri, September 12, 2014
by BRETT MARTEL, AP Sports Writer