Orlando Thomas: Texas 2012 Recruiting Spotlight

Vitals

Name: Orlando Thomas*

Position: Cornerback

Height: 5-10

Weight: 175

Speed: 4.40

High School: Copperas Cove

Rating (Rivals): Four out of five (5.8)

*Early enrollee

Offers

  • Texas (committed 2/13/2011)
  • Baylor
  • TCU
  • Texas A&M

Overview/recruitment

The Killeen-area product Thomas was the fourth commitment of the 2011 class after receiving his offer at the first Texas Junior Day despite surfacing on the Longhorn recruiting radar only days before when it became known that he would visit that weekend.

Though three other prospects had committed in the days before the actual Junior Day, Thomas was the first Sunday commitment for the Longhorns and the news of his pledge didn't break until the evening, an unusually slow weekend for a school that had secured 13 commitments by roughly the same time in 2010.

Death, taxes, and a surprise visitor at a Texas Junior Day. The former two are slightly more certain than the latter, but not by much these days. In 2009, it was Greg Daniels and Chris Jones. In 2011? Copperas Cove ATH Orlando Thomas, a prospect who was not on the list of attendees as late as the Friday and Saturday before the first Texas Junior Day, only to show up, receive an offer, and commit.

In the context of what looked like a lost weekend to offer defensive backs because news of former defensive backs coach Jerry Gray taking the Tennessee Titans DC position broke on Saturday evening, only hours before the Texas Junior Day began and hours before Duane Akina would return from his brief time in the desert, the commitment from Thomas, the fourth Texas 2012 commit, was even more of a surprise.

And also a momentum boost for a fanbase in no small amount of shock at the lack of commitments on the day normally known as Christmas for Longhorns recruitniks -- by late afternoon of JD1, the Longhorns had not yet reeled in a single commitment on the day, exactly a year after having landed nine already by that point and another commitment later in the day.

Without the commitment of Thomas, who clearly made the decision to commit to the University of Texas and to Mack Brown's vision of the program moving forward rather than to a position coach, JD1 would have been on the verge of disaster, especially in the opinion of those watching from around the rest of the Big 12, eager to proclaim the demise of the league's dominant program in recruiting, if not championships.

Scouting Report

Orlando Thomas Highlights (via 247SportsStudio)

Instant scouting report:

From the perspective of evaluating the 5-11, 175-pound Thomas, it's both a blessing and a curse that he plays quarterback for his high school team. It's a blessing because it's proof positive that the coaching wanted to put their best athlete at the position and Thomas as the best athlete on the team. It's a curse because running quarterbacks play downfield and cornerbacks, the position at which Thomas projects at Texas, spend a great deal of time going backwards.

In other words, while his offensive highlights show the top-end speed of Thomas, his short-area quickness, and fluid hips that allow him to shake some would-be tacklers, his highlights don't say anything about his backpedal, his transition ability, his tackling ability, or his ball skills.

Most seasons, the Texas defensive staff would have worked out an athlete like Thomas at cornerback at a summer camp to get a perspective on his raw athletic ability at the position. Only one small problem -- the only coach who would have seen Thomas in a summer camp on the staff at the time the Cove prospect was offered was Mack Brown, who always been more closely associated with the offensive side of the ball as a former running back and offensive coordinator.

So it's possible that the coaching staff is simply going on their projections of Thomas as cornerback and hasn't seen him play the position. There aren't any questions about the athleticism of Thomas and his coach describes him as a strong competitor, so the only real question with Thomas is how quickly he can learn the position. And who better to help him learn the position than the new/old Texas defensive backs coach who has molded three Thorpe Award winners, Duane Akina?

Thomas is an electrifying zone-read quarterback who will most likely get recruited as an athlete. Shows elite quickness and footwork that could project at either slot or cornerback with some technical polish. Will have adequate size for either position but will need to continue filling out and adding upper-body strength. Reaches 0-60 in a hurry but does appear a bit quicker than fast and flashes good not great long-speed. Flashes great feet, balance and body control. Sudden and very shifty in movements and very difficult to wrap up at the high school level as he can get small through the tight creases and hit the seams just as they open. Shows great stop-start and jump-cut skill eluding in and out of traffic. Lateral footwork and quickness is outstanding. Can stop, change direction and cutback on a dime; hips are very loose making cornerback a natural spot for him. His blend of great quickness, sharp footwork and hip fluidity should allow him to mirror receivers tightly in off-man coverages and recover. Tight out of his cuts as well. Ball skills are very good as are his awareness skills from playing quarterback. We do feel like his top-end speed may be tested as well as his size and strength when asked to press and jam bigger college receivers. Will need to show he can come up and tackle and support the run as well. The transition to a slot receiver position may be smoother and we do not rule out an all-purpose RB role with his natural running skill-set and vision. Overall, the versatile and athletic Thomas has big-play quickness and elusiveness and a lot of natural ability to develop once he settles in at one position.
The first order of business for the Texas coaching staff with Orlando Thomas this spring will be determining which side of the ball he will play on. All the major services list Thomas as an athlete and he has indicated to reporters on several occasions that he could get a chance to start out on offense, but with the receivers Texas added late in the process, it seems highly likely that Thomas will be a cornerback as a Longhorn.

As mentioned above, it's somewhat difficult to evaluate Thomas as a cornerback prospect since he didn't play the position at all in high school, even during summer 7on7 drills. However, Thomas did work there at a Texas summer camp before his junior season and that was apparently enough to convince Duane Akina. It no doubt helped that Thomas has all the physical attributes that should translate well to the position, including excellent speed, ability to sink his hips to change direction, lateral quickness, and first-step explosiveness.

Thomas did work at cornerback at the Offense-Defense Bowl for one day of practice and showed enough natural aptitude for the position to record an interception, a fumble recovery, and a handful of tackles. Not bad for a novice.

The good news for Thomas if he does end up on the defensive side of the ball as expected is that he won't be asked to come in and contribute early with experienced depth in front of him and some rising young talent trying to get on the field as well. If he does show the ability to pick up the position as quickly at Texas as he did at the O-D Bowl, any early playing time will be a bonus for the Longhorns.
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