(UHND.com) – Rumors have been rampant on all the boards for the last few months that Travis Thomas would be moving to linebacker and at his first press conference of the season, head coach Charlie Weis confirmed the move saying that Thomas would be competing for the starting weak side linebacker position.
Thomas, a senior with two years of eligibility, ran for 248 yards and five touchdowns as Darius Walker’s backup a season ago, and looked impressive in the Spring game, but when Weis looked for ways to improve the speed at the linebacker position, Thomas was his solution.
“When you have a kid who it’s his fourth year in the program and he’s a great athlete and a backup, you look at your linebacker position and you see that you’re not real happy with the speed that you have at the position. Well, then you have to figure out where the answers are. Now are the answers are the freshman coming in, Smith and Richardson, or do you have the answers currently here already on your team,” Weis remarked.
Weis decided that he would try to find that answer on the current roster in Thomas. “I told everyone we were getting more athletic on defense, he’s one of the best tacklers we have on our special teams, played strong safety in high school, he’s dying for an opportunity to get on the field on a full time basis and I’m going to give it to him,” said Weis in his opening remarks.
Thomas’s audition at linebacker will not completely remove him from the mix at running back however. Weis said that. “Travis is also going to play offense, so I’ve created a two way monster here,” before telling the media that Thomas would not be practicing with the offense this summer.
The move immediately brings a lot of athleticism to the linebacking corps. Thomas, the special teams captain, is no stranger to tackling from his special teams appearances as well as his experience on the defensive side of the ball from high school.
The question however is whether Thomas impressed Weis enough for Weis to make this move, or if the current linebackers didn’t impress Weis enough in Spring practice for him to look elsewhere for answers instead of waiting for the freshmen to report? Since Weis waited until after Spring to make this move, it leads me to believe it is the latter.
If Thomas can lock down a starting WILL position, the Irish would have a linebacking group that would probably look like this – Maurice Crum at MIKE, Anthony Vernaglia at SAM, and then Thomas at WILL. Should It play out that way, Notre Dame would have a fairly unproven starting three, but the group would also be one of the most athletic groups the Irish have ever started at the linebacker positions.
It is intriguing that Thomas moves to linebacker as a senior after three seasons in the backfield, but it has been done before at Notre Dame. Frank Stams was a fullback when he arrived at Notre Dame. He was an All American defensive end when he left after Lou Holtz switched him over to defense.
The move will create a void at the backup running back position with no proven backs other than Thomas behind Walker. Highly touted freshman James Aldridge, who enrolled early at Notre Dame, will miss most of, if not all of training camp while recovering from a knee injury. So for now, Junior Jabbie, who returned to the team this year, and freshmen Munir Prince and Luke Schmidt will battle for the backup position.
One thing to also think about is the fact that Courtney Watson and Anthony Denman, two of the best linebackers to wear the blue and gold over the last decade, both were converted running backs. Both Watson and Denman, had a little more time to pick up the position than Thomas who will get a baptism by fire this summer however.
Thomas at linebacker is going to be fun to watch this summer. We know he can run so if it doesn’t pan out a return to offense is always an option, but if he catches on a linebacker, he is going to be fun watching flying around on defense.