Michael Thomas Will Break Out in 2014...Or He Won't

By Michael Citro on April 24, 2014 at 1:00p
43 Comments

Michael Thomas is a Spring Game legend.

Ohio State fans are waiting for that to translate into autumn success.

This is the year that will happen. Or is it? We’ll get to that question a little later.

The junior-to-be made six catches for 64 yards in the annual glorified scrimmage earlier this month, adding to his impressive cumulative career numbers. Thomas caught seven passes for 79 yards and a touchdown in the 2013 iteration of the Spring Game, after bursting onto the scene as a freshman in April of 2012. That year, he finished with 12 receptions for 131 yards.

That’s an impressive 25 receptions for 274 yards and a touchdown over three spring contests. Might as well name the Spring Game MVP trophy after him at this point.

Thomas, his coaching staff and teammates, and Ohio State fans everywhere are hoping this is the year his spring performance carries over into the fall.

His 12-reception, 131-yard performance in 2012 didn’t. Thomas caught only three passes during the 2012 football season for a whopping 22 yards. Those receptions were split over three opponents — UAB, Michigan State and Michigan. Thomas appeared in 11 games that year, seeing the field for 196 offensive snaps.

That’s not the kind of production his Spring Game performance had promised.

Thomas worked hard in the offseason with Braxton Miller last year, trying to develop a chemistry. Miller went to California to work out with noted quarterback guru George Whitfield Jr. Thomas is from Los Angeles and his family still lives in California. That gave Thomas the perfect opportunity to get a jump on the competition at wide receiver.

It was a sound plan, but it just didn’t work out.

Thomas redshirted last season, despite his touchdown, seven catches and 79 yards last April. With Philly Brown, Devin Smith and Evan Spencer ahead of him, it made little sense to burn a year of eligibility. And maybe Urban Meyer was sending him a message.

Philly is gone. Spencer will be coming off an injury. The time has never been more right for Thomas to assert himself and take his game to the next level. He has shown his ability and athleticism throughout spring practices — and he’s made some impressive practice catches.

Why Thomas will finally break out in 2014:

Miller plans to work out again with Whitfield this summer. Chances are, Thomas will again be there to build chemistry with Ohio State’s starting quarterback. A second offseason of gaining Miller’s trust and developing a rapport will help.

Thomas is ready to become a complete receiver. He’s had ample time to learn that blocking and playing hard every down is paramount to earning playing time for Urban Meyer.

Few players on Ohio State’s roster appear as dangerous after the reception as Thomas. He’s shown an ability to work behind other receivers on flash screens, to work the sidelines, and to use his quickness in the middle of the field. And he catches the football. All the tools are there and now Thomas has both the opportunity and the experience to step up and become a go-to wide receiver for the Buckeyes.

And he’s hungrier than ever.

Why Thomas will continue to warm the pine in 2014:

Smith and Spencer are still around. Philly Brown may be gone, but his reps appear headed to Dontre Wilson, who has the explosion in his game that Meyer covets.

Tom Herman’s offense continues to grow into a more tight end-friendly system. Jeff Heuerman, Nick Vannett and Marcus Baugh are all extremely gifted athletes who will flourish.

In addition, Thomas has to fend off strong challengers from experienced receivers like Corey Smith, who showed his own lightning quickness after the catch in the Spring Game, and Georgia Tech transfer Jeff Greene.

Thomas has the physical ability to be great, but how is he at reading defenses? Can he be that reliable blocker Ohio State needs him to be at the wide receiver position? Does he go hard every play or take plays off? These are the questions for which we still don’t have the answers. If those answers turn out to be answered negatively, Thomas could become one of the more disappointing players in recent memory in terms of his ability-to-playing-time ratio.


It’s ultimately up to Thomas to determine which way this point/counterpoint thought exercise goes. The talent is there. He showed it off at Fork Union Military Academy in 2011, hauling in 23 passes for 497 yards and seven touchdowns. That’s nearly a 1/3 ratio of touchdowns to receptions and a robust 21.6 yards per catch.

But he has yet to make the leap to big time college performer.

Time is running out for Thomas. Does he fire or fizzle in 2014?

43 Comments

Comments

Killer nuts's picture
This is what this article made me think of

I certainly hope that he breaks out this year and I suspect he will

+17 HS
DBell8's picture

One thing to remember when discussing Thomas is that he is cousins with Keyshawn Johnson Jr., so a good final two seasons at tOSU could go a long way in the recruitment of him.

+4 HS
jonping67's picture

I think Thomas is a redshirt sophomore, so he has 3 years left.

+1 HS
nfischer's picture

But it also means that he is related to "OchoCinco"...so that could work against his future recruitment.

Earle's picture

Well, he is out of red shirts...

Just say no to italics abuse.

+7 HS
buckguyfan1's picture

Now Earle. (In my grandmother's voice)

+2 HS
Ball-Z-Buck's picture

NCAA - no more medical hardships but allowing 6yrs to play 4yrs.

Colerain 2004 G.O.A.T.'s picture

I could see him becoming Braxs security blanket and really racking up some receptions in a year where we are going to be slinging the rock all over the yard.

I speak the truth but I guess that's a foreign language to yall.~~Lil Wayne

+2 HS
osu07asu10's picture

in a year where we are going to be slinging the rock all over the yard.

I don't think the offense is going to get away from the power run game. Historically (even at Rice), Herman has always had run heavy offense. On top of that, Braxton has a tendency to tuck and run quite a bit. 

I can't see Braxton eclipsing 300 attempts for the season. Then again, if we picked up any plays from Chad Morris and Clemson and Braxton can master his touch on short passes...maybe he will.

"They don't know what they don't know." - Coach Mick

allinosu's picture

Agreed, if the running game is working then passing is an after thought

GVerrilli92's picture

Not sure that was the point he was trying to make.. or your sarcasm is on point. 

Either way, I think Braxton will sling it around because Urban wants to be able to throw the football. I understand Herman's past is the pillar of our playbook, but Urban (IMO) likes to split the field up into small zones and attack the defense a little more dynamically. 

I think Mike Thomas and Corey Smith will have good numbers because they have some of the better hands on the team. Stretch the field with Dontre on the sweep and bring it back to the middle with Thomas on a slant. Have Spencer and Smith attacking deep with posts and streaks. Fly Thomas out on a flash screen every 4th play. I also still hold out hope for Jalin Marshall, anytime the coach endorses a player the way Meyer did you can expect something. 

Also Johnnie Dixon will get way more targets in the OOC games than anybody is ready for (obviously IMO). He seemed like the project freshman of the spring game. Johnnie Dixon 2014:Dontre Wilson 2013 and Curtis Samuel 2014:Ezekiel Elliot 2013 

Honestly, this year's offense could just be a variation of the same three plays and it would still produce. We have so many options.

 

How many cheeseburgers are you gunna drive into that dirty old cheeseburger locker Brady Hoke?

teddyballgame's picture

Last year I think they wanted receivers with increased blocking ability for El Guapo.  This year it should be more about making passes to pure receivers.  If Braxton's arm is ok and he makes good throws then I think Thomas is going to surprise a lot of people.
 

+3 HS
BroJim's picture

Fair assessment. It will be interesting to see how Braxton bounces back. Right now it's a big "if".

I season my simple food with hunger

Horvath22's picture

"Time to throw the ball to Mikey."  

+9 HS
Killer nuts's picture

A 2002 reference to a sports illustrated article quoting Craig Krenzel's mom... I approve. +1

+1 HS
BrooklynBuckeye's picture

4th and 12 in OT of the NC game, why worry?

BrooklynBuckeye's picture

Damnit, that's what I thought originally, but in my head it seemed too improbable.

The lesson: Never underestimate how ridiculously clutch that team was.

+1 HS
headina's picture

So crazy. Just re read that article this Sunday before framing the issue and putting it on the wall in my office. 

GO BUCKS

Barnsey69's picture

I don't know about the the whole season, game-in and game-out, but the offense should utilize Thomas in the red zone with some jump balls and/or back shoulder stuff. He could really earn some trust that way me thinks.

Thank the Maker that I was born in Ohio, cradle of coaches, US Presidents, confederate-stomping Generals, and home of The Ohio State University Football Buckeyes!

+1 HS
Obstacle22's picture

We have been missing a big target in the receiving corp for quite some time now and at 6"3 will become the end zone target many thought Jeff Heurman was going to become last year.  Another great day to be a Buckeye!

 

Never quit. It is the easiest cop-out in the world. Set a goal and don't quit until you attain it. When you do attain it, set another goal, and don't quit until you reach it. Never quit. - Woody Hayes

BartGK's picture

Just hope one of these receivers emerges... Someone please step up...

 

BartGK

Tampabuckeye85's picture

He had close to 250 if I'm not mistaken so 300 is not out of the question. If he plays every game.

-1 HS
whobdis's picture

A lot of this is going to be up to Braxton..he's had a tendancy to want guys wide open before he makes a throw and I'm not sure Thomas is that kind of guy. I see him more as a Cris Carter guy that just takes the ball. If you look at Winston, Manziel and Boyd they all had guys like that. They would just toss the ball up and these guys will make you look good. I have to say though..I really like Corey Smith. Maybe not a beast getting the ball but he's a great yac guy.

 

+1 HS
tussey's picture

I appreciate the more pessimistic view of what could also happen.  I hope that he doesn't ride the pine again for this year, but the reality is that it is technically still an option.

rkylet83's picture

Thomas must be an impact guy for us this season.  Also Braxton must be willing to throw the ball when guys aren't wide open as others have said.  With his size and athleticism Thomas is ideal to throw open or go up for one on one battles.  MSU cornerbacks and safeties hammered our smaller receivers in the B1G Championship Game.  We need guys with height and length on the field to be a threat one on one.

bucksk1n's picture

A big key for Thomas this year is Spencer.  Other than a few fantastic catches we haven't seen much out of him other than good blocking.  If he doesn't have a big summer and prove it in August then I'd bet both CSmith and Thomas will be #2 and #3 wideouts and both will get plenty of targets.  I'd bet Urban wished he wasn't redshirting either of them last Novermber as every vet other than Philly disappointed.  Returning #1 DSmith needs to show more as well or he will lose snaps to younger players too.

Ohio State has a ton of wide receivers with potential so the key will be who shows it when fall camp starts.

BroJim's picture

Didn't know that Braxton was going to work-out with George Whitfield Jr. That's awesome.

I agree with Citro, Michael's playing time is in his own hands. 

Side note: George Whitfield Jr, is from Ohio, further proof Ohio is the greatest football state!

I season my simple food with hunger

TossTrap's picture

Yep, best buckeye news I heard in weeks, "Miller plans to work out again with Whitfield this summer".

First and goal at the five and Arch is getting the ball.

D. Anthony's picture

Spencer and Smith are far from the great receivers we need at OSU. For the most part they have been serviceable at best...time for much more new blood to take a good deal of their playing time.

D. Anthony

+1 HS
JohnnyKozmo's picture

Just echoing the sentiment that Braxton has to make a big leap in terms of reading defenses, anticipating his WRs route, and throwing them open.  That's the biggest ? for Braxton heading into his senior season.  He can work out with as many QB gurus as he wants on his mechanics, but it's reading defenses that he must improve upon.  If that happens, and he turns in a senior season similar to Troy Smith's, this could be a special season.  If not, I think you'll see Herman and Meyer lean on the stable of RBs again-not necessarily a bad thing, but it means an almost 1 dimensional offense, and that's not going to cut it against MSU.

Stoicpaisano's picture

The junior-to-be

RS Soph, yes? Post-grad at FUMA doesn't start the 5-to play-4 clock, so he's got three seasons of eligibility.

+1 HS
Michael Citro's picture

Both are correct. He's a junior-to-be scholastically and a redshirt-sophomore-to-be in terms of playing eligibility. 

In other news, I wish the OSU site's roster would emulate the media guide roster, because it gets confusing sometimes. Other schools use an "R" or "RS" next to their year if they've redshirted.

I'm adding this to the list of things I'll do when I become Supreme Overlord.

Tampabuckeye85's picture

If Braxton does go and work with Whitfield again as this post suggests, I think that could help with that hesitation. I think he had great inprovment with the chaos mechanics they worked on last summer. So maybe this will be the topic and with Thomas there working with him they can do so me good things. I want to believe that he doesn't really have an issue with throwing in tight windows just that he didnt have confidence the receivers would fight for position to make the catch.

-1 HS
sivaDavis's picture

I wouldn't mind seeing a heavy rotation at WR. Devin Smith can be great sometimes but can also disappear. Evan Spencer I believe has good hands and good blocking but just isn't that playmaker I thought we'd see at WR. Mike Thomas, Corey Smith, Dontre Wilson, Jalin Marshall, Johnnie Dixon... That's 5 guys that are going to be hungry come fall camp. I love Devin Smith and Evan Spencer and hope they step their play up but like Coach Smith said, no spot is guaranteed. We could see those two become 3rd and 4th options.. and that's just at WR. Add in those TE's and RB's all being thrown into the mix. Alot of options. We could literally rotate 3-4 backs who IMO could get it done. Add in Heuerman, Baugh and Vannett. Alot of weapons to be thrown to. Someone has to step up but most importantly. Braxton needs to get them the ball. 

"I've had smarter people around me all my life, but I haven't run into one yet that can outwork me. And if they can't outwork you, then smarts aren't going to do them much good." - Woody Hayes

CGroverL's picture

I don't understand how Philly Brown will affect anything about Michael Thomas...While I do get that Brown's 60 catches over each of the last 2 seasons will be missed, these guys really only are alike in the fact that they are both WR's. Thomas seems to be a downfield threat that stretches defenses as Brown's numbers show us that he was really the "go-to outlet as a short pass catching WR" or a "possession WR". I guess I'm more hoping that we can get the short kind of numbers out of the TE position. We really need to get Philly Brown's numbers as a necessity while Michael Thomas, Devin Smith, Dontrelle Wilson, and Evan Spencer really need to be those "down the field, stretch the defense" type threats. I guess I'm more worried about the Buckeyes replacing Philly's "go -to, first down receiver" presence as he averaged around 62* catches and 11.6* ypc. over the last 2 seasons. Brown wasn't a big play threat in either of the last 2 seasons as his 11.6 ypc is more important than it seems because he lead the Bucks in receptions over the last 2 seasons with 60 and 63 catches in 2012 and 2013 respectively.

I guess I'm just worried about having that "underneath passing weapon" to help the other bigger playmakers to average around 18 to 22 ypc. Whether it is a combination of Heuerman and Baugh, or another more SUREHANDED, UNDERNEATH presence to keep the safeties rolled up, allowing for the other receivers to be more of the big play threat. Having a "Philly Brown type", blue collar short threat will keep the safeties more rolled in so the bigger playmakers can make plays instead of being tackled by the first defender. Michael Thomas is bigger and seems like a totally different kind of receiver than Philly Brown.

I know that the Buckeyes have been playing the screen game more and more...but I really think that the Buckeyes need the RB's to step up and be that underneath presence where the OL lets the DL through as the OL gets blocking downfield after a 2 yard pass to our REAL threats, which to me, are the RB's and H-back catching a few screens instead of the WR's handling them all. I guess I just have more hope in RB's handling screen passes more than putting trips out for an instant pass to the short receiver with just a WR or 2 blocking downfield kind of screen pass. To me, the screen pass to the RB is really the threat we need to pull defenders in and make the rest of the receiving corps to average closer to 18 to 22 ypc. After all, opposing teams have eaten us up with that kind of play and the Bucks don't seem to have that in their attack.

I admit that I know the Buckeye defense much better as most people haven't realized that one reason that the Buckeyes have struggled in the pass game is not having a true Leo (viper or 7-tecnique) and Star as the defenses are really playing the same type sets as Silver Bullets of the past. I don't think it is a matter of a changed defense as it is simply being a bit young on the DL and having issues like losing a starting safety are more the defensive issues. I'm no guru, I just know defense better than offenses and I think Spence will be a better "viper" than he has been and a healthy Bell may help the defense have a true STAR

...if Chris Ash's concepts do not totally change EVERYTHING the Buckeyes did in the Heacock days which ended up in top 10 defenses more often than not. Sorry about the length, guys. Go Buckeyes!!!

 

"I hope they're last in everything"

Thanks, Urb!

Toilrt Paper's picture

For Thomas to get a lot of playing time he MUST become as good of a blocker as Spencer.

Soggy_McMuffin's picture

Should be a Red Zone threat! We have to have guys that can just go up in get it n the red zone...

Gooz-fra-bah...

ShawneeBuck74's picture

I think the coaches want Thomas to be a better blocker and likely have an attitude adjustment to start.  In our case ... Against top talented teams,  I think that's the wrong approach.

Mike Thomas has the size, hands, and body awareness to compete as a receiver against good teams.

Moreover, Braxton Miller trust him & has chemistry with him.  

Braxton's worst quality as a QB is his mental game under duress.  He holds the ball too long, and runs when it's too late or tries to force a pass out of frustration.  He stops trusting his training and the coaches play calling.  His confidence noticeably falters.

He needs a true security blanket. Someone who can say "throw it anywhere in my area and I'm going up to get it."  Mike Thomas has that ability and swagger. In this case, I think that swagger is good.  

In the last two years, I haven't seen a receiver with that swagger.  In fact, the only other player on offense who has shown that kind of "feed me the ball" and I'll get what we need swagger is El Guapo.  

We need a receiver with El Guapo swagger.  What I don't understand is these coaches try to push these guys to have that confidence and model that swag all the time...but seem to punish Mike Thomas for having it.  

 

You win with people. 

 

zhamilton05's picture

My gut feeling is that Devin Smith, Jeff Heuerman, and Dontre Wilson (and Evan Spencer to a lesser degree) are going to get most of the snaps and most of the targets. There's probably only room for one other pass-catcher to get even close to 20 catches. Will that be a bigger guy like Greene or Thomas? Or an all-around receiver like Corey Smith or Johnnie Dixon? Or a slot type like Jalin Marshall or James Clark? I know my categories aren't perfect, but bear with me--I'm generalizing here.

One of those guys is going to complement the Buckeyes' scheme in 2014 enough to warrant some throws from Braxton...but I don't have a good handle on who that will be yet. Do you?

Squirrel Master's picture

Dontre Wilson is supposed to be the phil in for Philly, but despite his elite talents he really isn't the guy I would like to see catch those "easy catches but you will get lit up as soon as you do" type catches Philly owned last year. If the ball is on the money, maybe Wilsons escapability will allow him to avoid those but there are some that are just going to hurt no matter what you do.

That is why it will be nice to have outlets with the TEs and guys like Thomas that hopefully Braxton can trust to go get a 50/50 ball. But I think the key player here will be either Eze or Curtis Samuel. Eze will be the starting tailback but can he be a reliable pass catcher out of the backfield. We know he has the skill but can he do it. Samuel might be a freshman but with his combination of size (6') and speed (4.3), he might be the best outlet player this team will have.

I really do see Curtis being a key element this upcoming year. That and I see Dixon being trustworthy for Braxton as well, just not sure he will get the PT to prove it until late.

after all this, I feel much more confident because I kept thinking of more and more guys who could be great for Braxton's confidence to move forward in the passing game. Like said above, Manziel had a monster that he knew he could get the ball if needed, Braxton didn't have that outside of Philly. and even that was limited to short stuff.

I saw a UFO once.......it told me to have a goodyear!

Psychranger's picture

MK has the best hands on the team. He catches balls no one else comes close to bringing in. With a QB who's not all that accurate, MK is the guy that can pull down the 3rd and 12 to keep the drive moving. He needs consistent playing time, not a series here and there.

JB3