A rash of injuries in the secondary has Oregon coaches toying with the idea of using De’Anthony Thomas at cornerback, per Adam Jude’s Oregonian report.
Avery Patterson joined John Boyett with season-ending knee injuries. Oregon was also without Troy Hill and Dior Mathis in Week 11 vs. Cal. Using the versatile Thomas on defense could be a matter of necessity for Oregon on its BCS championship push.
Thomas was recruited to USC from nearby Crenshaw High as a defensive back. Thomas was a standout corner his senior season, intercepting five passes and making 42 tackles en route to 1st Team All CIF Los Angeles City Section recognition. As CIFLA Offensive Player of the Year, Thomas was the only 1st Team selection on both sides of the football.
He’s fulfilled numerous roles for Oregon in his two seasons there, playing as a wide receiver in 2011 and converting to his natural position, running back, this campaign. Thomas also operates in special teams as one of the nation’s most electric punt returners. He obviously has no qualms accepting any challenge Chip Kelly offers Thomas — and returning to defense against Stanford would be a big challenge. Literally.
Stanford’s offense is built largely around a corps of sizable targets. Tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo go 6-foot-6 and 6-foot-8, while fullback Ryan Hewitt checks in at 6-foot-4, 250 pounds. The beef of the Cardinal offense would present an interesting mismatch against an Oregon secondary with 5-foot-10, 190-pound Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and 6-foot, 190-pound Terrance Mitchell. Add Thomas, generously listed at 5-foot-9, 175, and you have a classic speed vs. size showdown.
New Stanford starting quarterback Kevin Hogan targeted Hewitt and Ertz for 13 combined completions in the Cardinal’s defeat of Oregon State last week. The redshirt freshman looked comfortable hooking up with his big targets, completing 22-29 attempts. He did throw two interceptions though, which presents the Oregon secondary with a blueprint for slowing down Stanford with the dual threat Hogan behind center: force takeaways. Thomas’ speed could prove integral to that end, should the burner Black Momba be able to jump routes.
Of course, that hypothetical is predicated on Thomas playing cornerback at all. The idea of a wide receiver doubling in the secondary was kicked around elsewhere in the Pac-12; chatter of Marqise Lee taking on double-duty at USC circulated last week, though little’s come of it.