Memphis safety La’Andre Thomas on using the spring to regain his form after missing most of last year with a shoulder injury
Evan Barnes, The Commercial Appeal
For a brief moment against Houston last season, La’Andre Thomas looked like himself again.
In the third quarter, Houston’s Clayton Tune threw a high incomplete pass. Thomas closed in fast on the receiver, drilling him to the turf.
As the Liberty Bowl crowd cheered loudly, Thomas stood over the receiver and pumped his fist. It was a moment two months in the making since suffering a shoulder injury last September.
“It felt like I was back,” Thomas said, smiling as he recalled it.
Well, he wasn’t yet. That game was his last moment of the season as he suffered a setback that put him back on the sidelines.
But now in the spring? It’s like Thomas never left. The shoulder injury forced him to miss 10 games in total, yet the sophomore has used the spring to remind of both his athleticism and better understanding of playing free safety.
Memphis Tigers’ La’Andre Thomas practices at the Billy J. Murphy Athletics Complex on Thursday, April 4, 2019. (Photo: Joe Rondone/The Commercial Appeal)
He started two of the Tigers’ first three games last season and his presence has his teammates excited again on what he can do fully healthy.
“He’s going to make our secondary and our defense 10 times better because of his speed,” said Josh Perry, who replaced Thomas in the starting lineup after his injury.
With speed being a key element in Fuller’s defense, Thomas said that his versatility could allow him to play nickelback or cornerback if needed. But at safety, his speed can help limit the big plays like those Memphis gave up in losses to UCF, Tulane and Missouri
He’s also using the spring to develop better technique instead of just relying on athleticism. One of those skills is better eye discipline.
It helps that new defensive coordinator Adam Fuller always yells “Eyes!” to encourage his players to be better communicators. For Thomas, it’s a reminder of the rust he wants to shake off after being out.
“When you’re out (of) the game for a long time, sometimes your eyes be in the wrong spot trying to do too much,” Thomas said. “This spring I’m just continuing to focus on my eyes in the right spot.”
He showed that during one practice where he had an interception and ran around with a big smile on his face.
Just like against Houston, his mind wasn’t on his injury but on doing what he enjoyed the most — making plays instead of watching from the sidelines.
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“I feel like I got myself back. I’m grateful to be out there playing football,” Thomas said.
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You can reach Tigers football beat writer Evan Barnes on Twitter (@Evan_B) or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org