FOOTBALL PREVIEW 2005: No Bending or Breaking for Thomas, Defensive Line

The Front Seven

Matt Thomas was understandably excited about playing linebacker for the reigning Ivy League champs this season, but he never expected anything like this.

Before playing a single down for the Crimson, the freshman has been inundated with calls and e-mails requesting interviews, and has shared more than one awkward moment with fans and reporters who are confused when their eyes and their media guides seem out of whack.

But when you share a moniker with senior All-Ivy linebacker Matt Thomas, maybe a little confusion isn’t such a bad thing.

After last season’s performance, who wouldn’t exchange resumes with the elder Thomas, now affectionately referred to by teammates as “Pops?” Heir to the legacies of Isaiah Kacyvenski ’00 and Dante Balestracci ’04, Thomas had a breakout year in which he led the defense in six significant categories, including sacks and tackles for loss.

As a result, both Thomas and the rest of the Crimson expect even greater performance and leadership in 2005.


“He’s our meanest and most aggressive football player,” says defensive coordinator Kevin Doherty, “which is exactly what you want in a linebacker.”

Thomas believes he isn’t finished getting better.

“I think I’ve improved my pass rushing ability,” he says. “When I look back on last season, I see a lot of missed opportunities to get into the backfield and make plays, because maybe I wasn’t skilled enough at getting off of blocks. I really worked on that in the off-season.”

Though Doherty and his staff expect Thomas to step into the leadership role vacated by linebacker Bobby Everett ’05, Thomas cautions that he has “never been a big guy for talking. Other guys are more vocal. I’d rather provide leadership with my play on the field.”

In whatever capacity, Thomas leads a defense that Doherty says could be even better than last year’s team that finished 2004 in dominating fashion, allowing only one touchdown in the season’s final three contests. And while Doherty was pleased with his squad’s performance, one thing you won’t hear him talking about is the perception of his defense as a “bend but don’t break” unit.

“One of our goals is definitely not to give up the big play,” he says, “but what we want to do is attack and make plays ourselves. If you look at what we do, it has nothing to do with bending but not breaking.”

While the Crimson’s basic defensive package remains unchanged from last season, Doherty foreshadows that “we’ve added some new wrinkles pressure-wise,” and Thomas reports the addition of at least 10 new blitzing schemes installed in the off-season.

In terms of personnel, the Crimson returns six starters from last year’s squad, as well as a number of players who played significant snaps as backups. While Doherty surely finds comfort in having some established stars like Thomas, he looks forward to a defensive effort that is centered around the unit, not the individual.

“The thing that I liked about our defense last year was that you did not have a single superstar,” Doherty says. “We have the same situation this year. We’re very balanced across the board.”

Thomas is joined in the linebacking corps by junior Adam Miller, who had an impressive enough summer to earn a spot on the strong side, while Danny Tanner will see action on the weak side.


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