Mr. Relevant: Michael Thomas Primed for Breakout

By Kyle Rowland on April 9, 2013 at 10:00a
Michael Thomas has built a solid rapport with Braxton Miller.

The Ohio State spring game MVP is a dreaded award. It conjures images of the NFL’s “Mr. Irrelevant,” a title saved for the final pick of the draft. In years past, Bam Childress and Taurian Washington were spring game superstars who never lived up to their potential during the regular season. 

Another wide receiver – Michael Thomas – doesn’t want to fall into that same trap. A spring filled with accolades culminated last April with a 12-catch, 131-yard performance in the Buckeyes’ annual Scarlet and Gray game. It was perhaps the brightest spot for an offense that got the tagline of “clown show” and passing game that was termed “non-functional.”

During the 2011 season, Ohio State’s leading receiver had all of 14 receptions during the 13-game schedule. It didn’t get much better during the first 14 practices of the following spring. That’s why Urban Meyer was so vocal in his criticism.

Then Thomas had his double-digit receiving game. But it never materialized into production during the regular season. Thomas managed to haul in just three passes for 22 yards.

“I don’t think it was a curse,” said wide receivers coach Zach Smith, about Thomas’ spring tease. “But it was motivating because of the year he had and the expectations he had after the game. I'm glad it happened now.

“Last year, he might have been a little inflated. But he's not now.”

Thomas’ actions during an extended offseason prove that. After leading the state of California in receiving yards during a stellar high school career, a dip to 22 yards served as a reality check. The Buckeyes missed out on valuable practice time because they were not a part of the postseason. Before the team departed for the winter months, Meyer urged all 120 players to do their part for the lost time.

What’s a receiver to do? Well, spend time with the starting quarterback, of course. Thomas, a native of Los Angeles, hosted Braxton Miller during the duo’s trip to the West Coast to work with quarterback guru George Whitfield, Jr. The trip paid off for both of them. There’s better on-field chemistry and Miller’s game has soared, even after being named Big Ten Player of the Year. 

“Since I was out there with Braxton, sometimes I’ll be able to give him pointers or reminders that George would give him,” Thomas said. “We’re just trying to get better and help each other get better. We just want to win games around here.”

Ohio State is expected by many to win 14 games this season. For that to happen, Thomas and his fellow receivers must play a key role. The issue in 2011 was newcomers – the quarterback, wide receivers and head coach were all inexperienced. Last season welcomed another new head coach. While the quarterback and receivers were familiar with one another, they were not in tune with the offensive system. The Buckeyes’ passing game ranked lower than 100th in the country.

“We were winning games every week and installing new stuff. I really couldn’t slow the game down like I wanted to.”

Still, Devin Smith led the Big Ten in yards per catch and Philly Brown finished in the top three in the conference in receptions. The receiving corps lacked a dynamic threat, though. Smith and Brown are expected to help fill that role in 2013. The same goes for Thomas, who has had another exemplary spring.

“Last year was a learning experience,” Thomas said about his freshman campaign. “Every week was fast. We were winning games every week and installing new stuff. I really couldn’t slow the game down like I wanted to. When you’re able to slow the game down and get comfortable out there, you’re able to make plays. You’re able to play the game. I was trying to learn on the fly.

“This year, I’ve been able to slow the game down. Coaches have really been emphasizing reading the defense pre- and post-snap. I can read the triangle (safety, cornerback and linebacker).”

Thomas has a tall 6-foot-3 frame and exhibits all the tools of a go-to receiver. He can get behind the defense, tower over cornerbacks to grab the football and scoff at contact, as he did Saturday in a scrimmage, catching a touchdown pass despite heavy contact from Eli Apple.

“I’ve been going against some of the top guys in practice – Christian (Bryant) and (Bradley) Roby,” Thomas said. “They like to disguise a lot of coverages, which makes it more challenging and makes me better. They do it just so I can see stuff.”

With an uncle that happened to double as an All-Pro NFL wide receiver – Keyshawn Johnson – Thomas had the advantage of being coached up at a young age by someone who had achieved success at the highest level. The two talk daily now with Johnson delivering pointers to his nephew on the nuances and intricacies of the receiver position. 

“He’s a normal, growing kid who wants to do big things,” Johnson told the Toledo Blade. “I think (last year) was a bit of a wake-up call to him. You are a freshman playing big-time college football. The fact that you're even on the field playing a lot of snaps throughout the year speaks volumes.

“His future is bright. He’s only a sophomore. What’s the hurry? Enjoy your college career. Enjoy the school and academics, enjoy the girls. What's the hurry? Why are you in such a hurry. To be on the field to play? OK, you are going to do well, because (our family) is built that way. 

“I wish I could go back and be in his shoes at Ohio State.”

Those are encouraging words from a former No. 1 overall pick and Super Bowl champion. Johnson is in the business of realism and tough love. He’s a reassuring presence and sounding board for Thomas, but he isn’t going to lead him astray.

The boisterous Johnson was quick to downgrade Thomas’ spring game statistics a year ago, referring to his catches as “lollipop grabs.”

“Hell, I didn’t even play in the spring game,” Johnson said. “What means something is he's playing against Michigan, playing against Wisconsin, that's what means something to me. And when you're in the rotation as a true freshman, what more can you ask for?”

A firm understanding of what the college game entails should help Thomas going forward. His friendship with Miller also doesn’t hurt. Whitfield noticed the budding harmony between the two as hundreds of passes were thrown on the beaches of San Diego. 

“They’re bonded as strong as can be,” he said. “I like Mike. Long strider, great hands. You could see him make plays. He’s a big, long target. He knows that his ability to assert himself this season is big for the Buckeyes. I’m excited to see him play.”

Zach Smith is eager to see how Thomas, who he called “clueless” as a freshman, will evolve as a “talented” sophomore. 

Said Smith: “This summer has to be the best summer in the history of Ohio State football for my group.”


Comments Show All Comments

Baroclinicity's picture

I haven't even read this article yet and I will do so next; however, when I first loaded the page, at first glance it looked like two guys were leading Thomas away in handcuffs with cameras on him.
Scared the hell outta me.

When you're holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

southernstatesbuckeye's picture

Hahaha.  And the words "Primed for Breakout" didn't help much either, eh?

I like cookies.

Baroclinicity's picture

It was just the first immediate glance.  Picture came first.  Then the headline.  Stupid, I know, but funny at the same time.

When you're holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

rjenkins26's picture

I thought the exact same thing! My heart definitely skipped a beat or two lol.

cinserious's picture

I saw the same thing and said NOOOOOO!, what now? Please be more leary of your readers' fragile emotions.

One day I will valiantly become a political prisoner of 11W jail.

IBleedSandG's picture

The arms behind the back threw me off a little as well.


DJ Byrnes's picture

michael thomas bout to renegade this year i feel it in my bones

Californian by birth, Marionaire by the Grace of President Warren G. Harding.

Dougger's picture

Excellent. I like Keyshawn's advice - work hard, enjoy where you're at. I presume this means he's a solid #2 behind Devin Smith at the wide out then?
I'm excited (and hope) to see him make some big plays this year

I like football

Triv's picture

I would assume he is the 3 behind Devin and Philly, unless you're considering Philly in the slot as a different position. In which case I agree he is most likely the number 2 guy

Sorry Urban, Woody is still my favorite

Dougger's picture

Indeed. Lots of talen behind them all too!

I like football

cinserious's picture

I would designate Philly in the slot when J.Hall isn't in there. That leaves the flanker position to be manned by either Michael Thomas, Evan Spencer, or the JUCO Corey Smith. Between those three the best man who wins out should be a damn good receiver.

One day I will valiantly become a political prisoner of 11W jail.

Squirrel Master's picture

Slot Z is actually a receiver in the slot and Slot H is a running back in the slot, or more called a Slotback. Two different positions.
X- Devin Smith, Corey Smith
Y- Thomas, Spencer
Z- Philly Brown, Jalin Marshall
H- Jordan Hall, Dontre Wilson
We should see a lot of plays with both Philly and Hall on the field. The great thing about Jalin Marshall is that he has the size and build of a slotback but he will be so good at that Z slot, much like the unnamed Florida player. Really though, could easily mix all 4 of those guys up and even include Eze as a slotback. Gotta love diversity! but definitely will see at least 2 of them at the same time.

I saw a UFO told me to have a goodyear!

Buckabroad's picture

Kyle, thank you very much for this article which I greatly enjoyed reading. Insightful, informative and uplifting. I would love to see Thomas break out and contribute heavily to our offense this year.

"The minute we stop expecting greatness, we become Wisconsin."

buckguyfan1's picture

Man, it seems like we have a lot of weapons being well trained and the latest high profile recruits have not even joined the team as of yet.  I hope our expectations aren't too high.  If our line plays at a championship level, this year and years to come will be like no other Buckeye offensive attack I can remember.  Let alone that the Big 10 has witnessed.

BuddhaBuck's picture

I love that this kid embraces the two-digit traditional 80-something number.  I know he doesn't have Terry Glenn's cheetah-mode, but it'd be awesome to see him chalk up a few TDs this year.

Don't text while driving.

cinserious's picture

On a side note, Keyshawn Johnson is related to Chad Johnson, who is related to the Rolles (Samari, Antrell, etc.) of Florida. Damn good bloodlines! Damn good! If Micheal Thomas keeps working hard, he has NFL in his future.

One day I will valiantly become a political prisoner of 11W jail.

Grant Edgell's picture

Maybe it's blind hope because he comes from the family of a former NFL All Pro but he definitely feels like one of those wide receivers that could ultimately have national star power as an actual WR. We get our fair share of star receivers within the scope of the B1G and those we feel are stars within the team, but we haven't recently gotten many who are nationally recognized while at Ohio State (thanks, Walrus). Ginn and Gamble were stars for additional reasons and even Hartline/Robiskie/Sanzenbacher/Posey felt like 'regional' stars. Thomas may ultimately be one who gets Heisman talk as an actual wide receiver rather than a hybrid of offense/defense/special teams.

JYBUCKEYE's picture

I never thought I would be saying this, but I hope Thomas is listening to Keyshawn.  His advice on enjoying his collegiate experience is spot on.  Alot of these athletes pay too much attention on getting to the league.  You can work hard, be dedicated, and still enjoy being a rock star at tOSU.  

rhutchjr's picture

Is it possible all three could be in the same play and scare the s___ out of the DB's?

Toledo, a good place to be FROM

Hovenaut's picture

Hope MT becomes the anti-Duron Carter......stays, lives up to the hype, head stays normal-sized.

Squirrel Master's picture

does school!

I saw a UFO told me to have a goodyear!

CentralFloridaBuckeye's picture

Awesome article!  Can't wait to see him on the field!  Look for him to scorch some of those maize and blue DBs next year!!!
Go Bucks!

MediBuck's picture

Really hoping Thomas can put it all together and be another danger on the side of the field opposite Philly and Devin (those two between the slot and flanker positions wreak unholy havok on the secondary wherever they're lined up). We know what Hall can do in the H slot position, so we just need a solid Y to emerge to stretch defenses horizontally. If Michael can be that guy, our passing offense will truly blossom come fall :)

"There is a force that makes us all brothers, no one goes his way alone." --Woody Hayes

osubuckeye4life's picture

I really like the fact he was with Xbrax360 out in Cali with the quarterback Yoda.
Very excited to see how much he has improved!