April 3, 2014
By Steve Grinczel, MSUSpartans.com Online Columnist
EAST LANSING, Mich. - Home has been wherever Lawrence Thomas' heart was during his Michigan State football career.
That said, he couldn't be more content about lining up at defensive end this spring.
Or, defensive tackle.
Shoot, Thomas will even occasionally visit with the fullbacks if need be.
For the time being, however, one of the most celebrated prospects of the Mark Dantonio head-coaching era is settling in as a defensive lineman.
"I just hope I have a huge role on the team this year playing defensive tackle and defensive end, so that's what I'm focusing on," Thomas said this week after practice. "It's real comfortable when you find a home, being able to focus on one position.
"It's also a plus knowing all the other positions. If coach needs me at tight end, I'm going to go to tight end and get a couple plays there. If he needs me at defensive tackle, I'll play defensive tackle. In little-league football and high school, I did everything."
Thomas even punted, not that Mike Sadler's job is in jeopardy at MSU.
"I think he showed some flashes and we're going to play our best four defensive linemen," Dantonio said. "He's 290 pounds, so he can go inside and play as well. He's sudden, and as long as he stays active and healthy, he's going to be a very good football player for us.
"The majority of his reps will stay outside at end right now."
Thomas arrived as MSU as a blue-chip linebacker in 2011. After a redshirt season, the coaching staff was determined to find a way to take advantage of his quickness, power and athletic ability and temporarily housed him at fullback. He made three starts in '13 and had seven catches for 78 yards before switching to defensive tackle before the Spartans defeated TCU in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
Thomas didn't fully recover from a back injury sustained during a training session last summer until midway through the season. His only tackle in seven games came on special teams in the 24-20 victory against Stanford in the Rose Bowl.
"I feel great," Thomas said. "As I went through winter workouts and now spring ball, I don't have a problem. It was real difficult (last season) seeing my brothers practice every day knowing my situation. I had to lean against the wall and watch everybody get better, while I can't do nothing with weight-room work or fieldwork.
"It was just a toll on me (but) it motivates me a lot. I'm coming into this year with a chip on my shoulder. I haven't proven nothing yet, so I've been grinding on and off the field. I just can't wait to get things rolling this year. I'm comfortable and I just know my time is coming."
The Spartans got a glimpse of what Thomas could do last year at this time.
"I brought toughness to the D-line, my get-off is good, so I just brought quickness and athleticism," he said. "Right now, they need me everywhere. I got no time to be tired, I got no time to be hurt. I've got to get the job done.
"The injury set things back a little bit, but I'm full-go right now. We lost some key players, so it's time for us to go as a whole. We're the group that has to stand strong this year. It don't matter (what position) as long as I'm on the field making plays."
Thomas has been a welcome addition.
"He's a versatile guy," Calhoun said. "He's played D-tackle and now he's come out to D-end, so he has a lot of potential playing inside and outside. He gets off the ball fast. He was a linebacker coming in so you know he's going to know the defense. He understands it and is going to play it to the best of his ability.
"Other than that, he brings a lot of energy to the team. He's going to scream, shout - that's just the kind of guy he is."
Overall, Calhoun sees a bright future for the line.
"We had a lot of young guys play last year from (nose tackles) Damon Knox and Brandon Clemons and (tackle) Joel Heath," he said. "We already have the experience and we played in big games. Now we just have to piece it all together and once we do that it will definitely be high-flying.
"I would say Joel Heath is going to be a big factor this spring, this upcoming fall camp and this season. Not many people know about him, but he's put on weight and he's one of our stronger guys. He played defensive end, he went in to tackle, came back out to end and now he's finally at D-tackle where he can get used to the position and conquer it. Watching him evolve this winter and work so hard motivates me to get better."
Red-shirt freshman end Demetrius Cooper and junior tackle James Kittredge are also ramping up the competition for playing time. Consequently, Thomas is using all his experience and versatility at his disposal.
"At linebacker, you try to run around things," Thomas said. "At defensive end, it's all physical. You can't run from it. There's contact every play, so by me being on the defensive line I'm just trying to stay strong at one position and I've got to play angry on every down.
"I've got that defensive line mind-set now."