Thomas, Thomas on same page — but what's next for Oregon's freshman flash?
EUGENE - Earlier this week, Oregon Ducks coach Chip Kelly felt bored. Sitting alone in his office during position meetings, Kelly had no one to talk to. Not even his secretary. Kelly decided that he might as well spend some time with running back/receiver De'Anthony Thomas.
'My secretary doesn't want to talk to me, so I decided to hang out with De'Anthony,' Kelly says. 'He's got to play running back, he's got to play receiver, we were bouncing him around from meetings to meetings. I know a little bit about the offense, so I said, 'Why don't you just hang out with me?''
Thomas, a first-year freshman, says he enjoyed the private tutorials.
'It was great,' he says. 'I learn from Coach Kelly. We joke around a little bit.'
Kelly says he enjoyed his time with Thomas, as well. But he jokes about the possible ramifications.
'We bonded this week,' Kelly says. 'He may transfer Monday, but ... '
After what happened Thursday night, that seems even less likely.
Thomas was outstanding in the Ducks' 43-15 win over Pac-12 foe California at Autzen Stadium. Playing a mix of running back and slot receiver, the 5-9, 170-pounder slashed through the Bears' defense. He rushed twice for 18 yards and one touchdown and led the Ducks in receiving with six catches for 114 yards and two TDs.
'He did a nice job, despite his position coach,' Kelly says. 'He overcame me this week in practice. Imagine if he had a real guy coaching him.'
Thomas was not alone in his glory. He had an incredible connection with Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas (no relation).
The Thomases showed how well they were reading each other in the third quarter, when Darron hit De'Anthony for a 23-yard touchdown and a 21- yard TD. They also hooked up on a wheel route for a 2-point conversion.
The ability to have De'Anthony Thomas catching the ball gave the Ducks some much needed balance, as Oregon rushed 51 times for 365 yards (239 yards on 30 carries by LaMichael James before he left with a dislocated elbow).
'De'Anthony really kind of changed the game for us,' Kelly says. 'If you're going to try to gang up on the run game, we're going to be able to throw the football. Darron put the ball, especially in the second half, where it needed to be, and made some real tight throws. When we can be a team that's explosive both throwing the ball and running the ball, then we've got a shot at being decent.'
Offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich says the connection between De'Anthony Thomas and Darron Thomas against the Bears has been developing since De'Anthony came to Eugene for summer workouts.
'Those guys developed a good rapport,' Helfrich says. 'They're both gym-rat type guys, and they've taken to each other.'
That relationship has continued to grow this season.
'It's just a continuous thing,' says QB Thomas, who was 13 of 25 passing for 198 yards for three TDs, with one interception. 'We've been working hard. That guy has been working hard ever since he got here, trying to get the ball in his hands any type of way, and it worked out great today.'
De'Anthony Thomas says has great respect for the older quarterback. And he has by all accounts responded well to Darron pushing him in practice.
'Darron Thomas, he's just a great leader, a great quarterback, and I just learn from him,' De'Anthony Thomas says. 'He gets in my head every day at practice just working hard.'
Part of the reason for the Thomases' success Thursday was that the Bears failed to make an adjustment to De'Anthony's speed in the slot. Cal tried to use man-to-man coverage, and that did little to even slow him down.
'(De'Anthony) had the mismatch today,' Darron Thomas says. 'Guys tried to man him one-one-one with the slot safeties, but not (with) a good cover guy.'
With De'Anthony Thomas playing multiple positions, any defensive coordinator has to make his best guess how he might be able to hurt the other team.
'The defense never knows where I'm going to be on the field,' De'Anthony Thomas says. 'It's like hide and go seek.'
The young Thomas' role might become a lot more defined in the coming weeks, due to James' condition. The Ducks' code of omerta probably will prevent fans or media from knowing the extent of the 2010 Heisman Trophy finalist's injury or how long it might sideline him. After the game, though, running backs coach Gary Campbell was somber as he prepared for the worst.
'We moved (De'Anthony) to wideout because we needed him to touch the ball some more,' Campbell says. 'He proved he could do just what we thought he would do. Now that LaMichael is at least temporarily out of the mix, there's a good chance that he'll be getting to play (running back) a little bit more.
'If he can contribute by catching passes and running for touchdowns, that's fine with me,' Campbell says. 'Six points is six points, whether he's doing it from the backfield or wide receiver. As long as he can help our team, I'd like to see him on the field.'
While he might have to pick up some of the slack for James, keeping Thomas at slotback would seem to be in Oregon's best interest. Helfrich says the Thomas-to-Thomas connection can get even better.
'Those guys, in practice they can get going pretty well,' Helfrich says. 'That's something that we need to just keep building. Do different things. Move (De'Anthony) around a little. When he gets more comfortable with his role in our offense, the sky is the limit.'