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AMES — Jhaustin Thomas has spent the bulk of his football career playing on the edge in the role of pass rusher.
His coaches at Iowa State had something else in mind for him last week. It was something a little less glamorous.
The fifth-year senior moved from defensive end to the interior line ahead of Oklahoma State and might have finally found his new home after two tackles and a sack last week. You can chalk the move up to coach’s intuition or anything of the like, but whatever it was worked.
“Playing inside is not near playing on the edge,” said defensive coordinator Jon Heacock. “If you play on the edge you’ve got a lot of things happening to you. I think he’s one of those guys where the opportunity to move inside; we put him in there at times in dime and had some success.
“We talked about it last week and said, ‘Let’s throw him in there and see what happens.’ He did a really good job.”
Thomas’ physical nature has never been in question. He’s 6-foot-6 and 275 pounds and looks more like a beefy basketball forward. In the interior defensive line, his long arms can be his best friend and help him shed blocks against smaller guards.
Conditioning also is the difference from last season to this one. He played in eight games last year and finished with 15 tackles and a sack. Thomas has played in all six 2016 games and has 10 tackles with three sacks. He put himself in a better position physically to handle more snaps.
“The ability to have his motor and his want-to and his practice habits match what he looks like, that’s been a great process,” said Iowa State Coach Matt Campbell. “What I’m really proud of Jhaustin is, he has worked really, really hard to get where he’s at.”
Moving to the inside also means Thomas gets to rely on more of his natural, physical ability than spending time dissecting schemes. Iowa State’s defensive ends are asked to do a lot in pass coverage and pass rush, but on the inside, Thomas is able to use his brute strength to create the pressure without the hassle of over thinking.
When approached about moving, Thomas was a bit unsure at first but saw the immediate impact he could make in the rush defense. He spent time in the interior defensive line at junior college — where he also played basketball — and was able to pick it right back up when he moved last week.
“I think I’m more in shape and more confident than I was last year,” Thomas said. “I’ve come a long way.”
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