Thomas a terror for opposing backfieldsBy Mark Soltau November 18, 2011, 4:20 pm
Chase Thomas doesn’t play offense, but he often spends more time in opposing backfields than quarterbacks and running backs. The six-foot-four, 240-pound senior outside linebacker has a knack for making plays behind the line of scrimmage.
Through 10 games this season, he has 6.5 sacks, which rank second in the Pac-12 Conference, and 14.5 tackles for losses and four forced fumbles, which rank first in the conference. In 36 games at Stanford, Thomas has recorded 21 sacks and 30 tackles for losses.
“He’s doing a great job,” said Cardinal outside linebacker coach Lance Anderson. “His biggest asset is just what a smart football player he is. He has such great understanding of the defense and knows exactly where he fits in. But he knows everybody else’s job, too. So he does a really good job of making calls out there and helping guys get lined up.”
Opponents do their best to account for Thomas, assigning running blocks and tight ends to block him. However, Anderson counters by moving Thomas around.
“Sometimes we put him on the ball, sometimes he’s off the ball,” Anderson said. “Right or left. It’s hard for offenses to zero in and find out exactly where he is. The good thing is he has so many skills, he’s pretty good at adapting.”
Case in point: Thomas was recruited from Walton High School in Marietta, Georgia, as a defensive end. As a redshirt freshman in 2009, he made eight starts at end after an injury to starter Erik Lorig, then moved to outside linebacker the following year. He’s been a mainstay ever since.
The no-nonsense Thomas is not surprised by what he has accomplished this season. He’s a perfectionist and expects the best out of himself every game.
“I’ve definitely left a lot of plays on the field I should have made,” said Thomas. “This is what we worked for this off-season—I pushed myself pretty hard to become more of a leader my teammates can count on. The coaches have put us in a great spot to make plays. We just have to capitalize more than we have.”
Stanford, 9-1, is ranked first or second in eight defensive categories in the Pac-12. Although the unit has been roughed up by Washington, USC, and Oregon in recent games, it ranks first in the conference in rushing defense, allowing 94 yards per game.
Still reeling from a 53–30 loss to Oregon last week, Thomas and his teammates will be tested again Saturday night by a talented Cal offense in the 114th Big Game at Stanford Stadium.
“It definitely lingered a little longer than we would have liked it to,” Thomas said of the defeat to the Ducks. “It sure felt good to get the pads back on, get the taste out of our mouths and hit some people.”
Never mind Cal’s 6-4 record, the Bears have won three of their last four games and figure to be loose and confident Saturday. They have good skill players and aren’t averse to trickery.
“Cal always plays the hardest,” said Thomas. “No matter how they’ve been doing the previous weeks, they always bring out everything—reverses, hook and ladders. We definitely have to be prepared for those.”
Thomas is 1-1 against Cal and expects another war at the line of scrimmage.
“They’re physical,” he said. “Their offensive linemen come off the ball harder than some of the guys we’ve seen this year. So we can’t stand around piles and have to protect ourselves at all times. It’s a rivalry game and it gets heated out there.”
For Thomas, the best part about playing football at Stanford is making people take notice of the defense.
“Pretty much going onto the field and proving everyone wrong, any doubters out there that think we can’t make plays in space or tackle that well,” said Thomas. “When you tackle the quarterback with the ball in his hands, it’s a one-of-a-kind feeling. It’s definitely awesome.”
Admittedly, losing to Oregon and seeing its potential national title hopes dashed was a crushing blow for Stanford. But Thomas said players are determined to regroup and finish the year strong.
“The season’s not dead by any means,” he said. “We have a lot to play for. We still want to go to a good bowl game and prove to the country we’re a top-five team and that we deserve to be up there.”