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?