It's still the off-season and college sports news is, at best, sparse. So to pass the time we're making up our own news. In that vein we're previewing portions of the University of Michigan Football Team's upcoming 2010 Schedule.
Specifically, we're previewing the most dangerous players on each team Michigan will face this year. Some will be on offense, some on defense, and all of them will be players worthy of your scorn. We've got a full 2010 football schedule, so we'll break down the key cog to each opponent one at a time. We've even got a convenient schedule and hatin' guide for you to go off of.
As the calendar turns to November, Michigan welcomes the orange clad boys from Chambana to Michigan Stadium. A year removed from seasons both programs would like to forget, Illinois is going to be breaking in a new QB, new tailbacks, and new coaches (after Zook canned half his staff). Sure. Coaching changes always have better results. Right Michigan fans?
The Illini finished 3-9 last year with one of those wins being a 38-13 blowout of Michigan in Champaign that was far more painful to watch that you're willing to remember. One of the reasons was the play of Illini Linebacker Ian Thomas, and he's next in our list of loathing for the 2010 Michigan Football Season.
Who Is He, Exactly?
Coming out of high school, Thomas was a lightly recruited 2/3 star linebacker from Maryland. Garnering limited interest, at the time Thomas' best offers were from Zook's Illinois squad and Randy Edsall's Connecticut team. Choosing Illinois, he redshirted his freshman year and entered last season as a RS sophomore whose role expanded with the early season loss of former five star recruit Martez Wilson. And to his credit, Thomas made the most of his opportunity.
Playing in every game last season Thomas led the Illini in tackles, alternating from the outside and middle linebacking positions. This season with Wilson returning to the field of play, Thomas will slide over to the WLB position but apparently still call the defenses from that position. In terms of his play making ability Thomas isn't a particularly flashy, OMG type player. He is very quick, though a tad undersized. Thomas runs sideline to sideline fairly well and is a very aggressive linebacker. If there was a tackle to be made in 2009, and based on the horrific state of the Illini offense last year there were, he was in on it.
So, Explain Why We Should Hate Him
In last year's game Thomas was an absolute menace. I'm never a fan of opposing players being in Michigan's backfield, but it's especially galling when one of those players is an unheralded linebacker who shouldn't be making contact behind the line of scrimmage. Thomas registered a QB hurry, a TFL and a fumble recover along with nine tackles, eight of them solo, against Michigan. For some reason Michigan has this inexplicable ability to turn unheralded (Thomas) or completely inept (Juice Williams) Illini players into All-Pros for a day. No one can explain this, but it happens every goddamn year.
More after the jump.................
Thomas may not be the most talented player on the Illini defense, but he's the guy that shows up at the point of attack over and over again. He's also the guy calling schemes and audibles when they line up. And, I'm really getting tired of writing this, Illinois' won two in a row against Michigan. He's the defensive key to stopping that trend. At this point, I think you know why you must hate him.
Give Me His Weaknesses, So That I Might Exploit Them
Thomas ain't the biggest guy out there, checking in just under six feet and weighing in under 240. Thomas also has a tendancy to overpursue and can get caught out of position on the cut back (think Jonas Mouton). Additionally, his cover skills are charitably described as "missing". The kid my be strong as a bull moose but he covers like one as well. Despite being strong and agile, when matched up against a lineman of comparable skill Thomas ended up on the wrong side of a pancake last season. I'm sure he's gotten better at dissengaging from blockers but I'd put my money on David Molk or Stephen Schilling getting loose at one point and just flattening him. Finally, I wasn't all that impressed by his lateral vision. Thomas tends to "lock on" his target and can forget from time to time that there are other players on the field intent on doing him harm. With that in mind, I imagine there will be a few instances in every game where he'll leave himself exposed for a crushing block. With the Michigan game later in the season, unless he improves in that category he could be pretty dinged up come November.
There you have it. Ian Thomas, linebacker for Illinois. Even with Martez Wilson's return to the field he's still the best linebacker on the Illinois team and the key to their defense. You know his weaknesses, now get your hate on.