ANN ARBOR, Mich. — While in Florida for a segment of spring practice, Dymonte Thomas found out via text and social media that Brian Smith had been hired as Michigan’s new secondary coach. Shortly afterward, Thomas, a senior safety, exchanged pleasantries with Smith — the standard, “welcome, nice to meet you” type of stuff.
And then they got down to business.
“When I first got here, I had stiff hips…” said the 6-foot-2, 195-pound defensive back. “But every day (working on the) back-pedal with him, and you know, back-pedal break, open 90 (degrees), or back-pedal break and come downhill… and you do a lot of turns and stuff, it really helps my hips get loose and everything…”
It wasn’t that Smith immediately noticed that Thomas wanted or had to tweak his hip movement, it’s that Smith knew that it was necessary to adjust Thomas’ hips… just because.
Having coached DBs in the NFL allows Smith “to just know” about certain aspects of the game, said Thomas. Particularly the small but important details.
No arguments there. Thomas noted each and every one of Smith’s helpful hints.
Safeties don’t always run down toward the middle of the field. Sometimes, they’re in man-to-man coverage, which requires nimble feet, fluent hips and a sharp sense of field awareness.
“He’s done a great job of helping us become better athletes,” Thomas continued.
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So far, it sounds as if Thomas could end up casting the mold for Smith’s first go-round in Ann Arbor. The physical senior certainly fits his new coach’s description of an ideal safety (question asked by Adam Schnepp of MGoBlog).
“We like guys that have length, that are athletic, you know, can play man-to-man–those are some of the things that we’re looking for,” said Smith, who coached Philadelphia Eagles linebackers in 2015 and various secondary positions from 2007-2014 with the New York Jets.
So yes, he knows what he wants.
“(Michigan practices) are more like an NFL practice, I would say,” Thomas mentioned.
And on that note, again refer to Thomas, who provided great coverage and presence during the Wolverines’ 41-7 Citrus Bowl throttling of Florida on New Year’s Day in Orlando. Four of his 24 tackles on the season were made while playing the Gators. His best performance came during coach Jim Harbaugh’s crowning moment of Year 1 at Michigan.
Not a bad way to end a season, especially for a guy who’s been waiting more than two years to really make an impact.
Thomas said he enjoyed playing special teams and “just being around the guys,” but he always thought he could give more to his teammates — something greater than one tackle or a block during a return.
His “more” place is free safety, where he’s now become quite comfortable. In fact, it’s his “love.” After manning the corner, nickel and linebacker spots during his first three years, Thomas feels that it’s easier to “play loose and have fun” as a free safety.
Like Jarrod Wilson did in 2015, Thomas will be responsible for running checks, making sure that everyone is lined up in correct form before every snap. He’s embracing that responsibility now that Wilson has graduated. Wilson often shared notes with Thomas, making Thomas even more eager to fill the important vacated role.
And he’s certainly embracing his new coach’s philosophies, which is fitting for a player who’s always learned on the fly while at Michigan.
“‘This is our new defense, we’re going to learn it and this is how we’re going to play it–let’s have fun,'” said Thomas, relaying Smith’s welcome message to players. “He’s a very great coach, you know, he’s really soft-spoken and everything so I really like him.”