Joe Thomas played right tackle his freshman and sophomore years of high school in Lakewood, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. He switched to right guard his junior year before playing left tackle his senior year. He was even recruited with the knowledge that he might switch back and forth once he came to Pittsburgh. But at St. Edward High School, the changes were no problem for the big guy, who was the No. 12-rated high school offensive lineman in the nation his senior year in 2006. They won’t be at Pitt, either.
“I’m feeling pretty good about everything so far,” Thomas said after spring practice Friday at Pitt’s South Side Facility. “I’m comfortable with all the drills. It definitely helps to have played in high school, too. That way I’m not learning everything from scratch.”
The biggest difference between right guard and right tackle is isolation. That is, as a tackle, Thomas is on an island with no help to his right. At guard, Thomas was part of the pack, with help on both sides. Now he finds himself in practice face up with Pitt’s speedy defensive ends. Thomas’s offensive line coach, Tony Wise, said it’s a good thing there is such good speed on the defensive side of the ball because it challenges Thomas to get better.
“There are no days off, no down time for Joe,” Wise said. “He has to learn on the fly against some pretty great players. It’s a challenge to get your feet and body in the right place to anticipate where the defender will be attacking. Against such quick guys, Joe has to be there or that’s it, play is over.”
Thomas said that in his new position, learning body positioning and preparing for specific types of defenders has been the most important part of the process. For speedy defensive ends, right tackles have to step back more and beat the defender to spots. For power ends, Thomas said his first goal is to stop their momentum. His second is to avoid losing his man on the second effort.
“People underestimate [right tackles],” Thomas said. “Guys are just as fast on the right side. And they still get to the quarterback. But yeah, it’s all about learning the steps and getting reps. I’m feeling good about it.”
Thomas has held his own at his new position and, aside from his previous experience at right tackle, Thomas’s maturity and experience at Pitt has helped him greatly in the process.
“He is sharp in the meetings,” Wise said. “He has obviously seen what the guys who used to play right tackle did. He knows what he has to do and he does it. I mean, he’s still learning some of the kinks to the position, but Joe will be fine. He knows how to adjust – he did it all of high school.”
And if his high school days are any indicator of how Thomas will make the switch in college, he’ll be just fine.