Georgia coach Kirby Smart said this week that he believes that the Bulldogs’ starting offensive line is starting to round into shape. One of those players is true freshman Andrew Thomas at right tackle.
But with the start of the season just a week, Thomas’ early rise isn’t coming as a surprise for those around him.
Chris Slade, his former coach at Pace Academy in Atlanta, raves that intelligence alone, Thomas already is capable of being a starter.
“I told (Georgia offensive line coach Sam) Pittman last year when he was recruiting him that this is probably one of the smartest kids I’ve been around,” Slade told GN. “He played both side of the ball. He knew every protection, check and all the blitz pickups. He was on top of everything and then on defense he knew all the blitzes and could be a one technique or three technique.
“So I knew that even if he was going to be behind a little bit physically, he was smart enough to figure it out and be a first day starter.”
But Thomas’ path wasn’t always smooth. After his freshman season at Pace Academy, Slade had to convince and motivate a shy Thomas that left tackle was the position for him, not tight end, which is what he wanted to play.
The point was made when he brought Thomas into his office one day to speak with him.
“These are all the left tackles and these are all the top tight ends,” Slade told him. “Now tell me which position you want to play? Right then, he was like, ‘Oh yeah, I want to be a left tackle.’ He didn’t say anything. He just pointed and just kind of walked out. That was the last time I heard the tight end talk.”
Considering that he was around 6-foot-5 and 335 pounds by his senior season, the move made sense for Thomas. After all, offensive tackles are often the biggest players on a team.
Still, Thomas took some issue with his size, but not because he wasn’t big enough. For him, as Slade recalls, there was a time when Thomas had some shame in it, which included eating a big lunch in front of others at school.
“I said you’re a big guy,” Slade said. “You need to walk around like a big guy and you need to act like a big guy. That doesn’t mean you need to be a bully or do anything that’s going to be harmful to anybody. Because one day you’re going to be glad you’re a bigger guy.”
That seems to be applying now for the 6-foot-5, 320-pound Thomas, who was ranked among the top 10 offensive tackles in the nation and top 50 prospects overall in the 2017 recruiting cycle. Currently, he is beating out true freshman offensive tackle Isaiah Wilson and junior college transfer D’Marcus Hayes – both of whom were either ranked higher or have more experience than Thomas – among others.
Redshirt sophomore left guard Pat Allen thinks of a veteran teammate considered to be among the best in the SEC when he sees Thomas.
“He reminds me of (senior starting left tackle) Isaiah (Wynn), a lot,” Allen said. “Because it’s just natural for him.”
For sophomore defensive tackle Julian Rochester, he marvels at Thomas’ size, though it’s one part about him in particular that stands out.
“He has the arms where he can scratch his knees while he stands up,” Rochester said. “His arms are so long.”
But it’s what the coach says that matters most and Kirby Smart already has said that he has come away impressed by Thomas’ maturity.
For a new offensive line in place of one that came under heavy scrutiny last season, that and more what Thomas brings could help bring better results when Georgia opens the season next Saturday against Appalachian State.
(You can follow Dan Mathews on Twitter @DanMathewsATL)
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