There, I said it. Thomas, the sophomore safety, who dropped more interceptions last season than he caught (2) will compete with The Predator, a senior who had 10.0 sacks last season. The same Predator who had a serious decision to make about whether to leave Texas for the NFL.
Talking to Thomas Tuesday night confirmed my thinking. I've set the over/under for interceptions by Thomas this season at six. It's a bunch, considering the entire Texas defense only produced six in all of 2008. But anyone who saw the open practices last week saw Earl Thomas making plays, just like he did in the spring game, when he pulled off a pick-six against Colt McCoy, the most accurate quarterback in NCAA history.
When it comes to talking, you're not going to get much out of Thomas, a quiet kid from West Orange Stark, who eats a pickle and slurps down a watermelon slush before every game and considers Nathan Vasher his sports hero.
In fact, Will Muschamp went to Thomas after last season and said it was time for him to become a vocal leader.
"I guess it's all about growing up," Thomas said. "Last year, I was younger. And this year, Coach (Muschamp) had a meeting with me and told me I need to step up as a vocal leader out there. I've got to help Blake (Gideon) out. He's the quarterback of the secondary. Everybody knows that. But I don't want him to have to carry all that by himself. I want to help him out best I can."
One of the things that stands out immediately about Thomas is the respect he gets from his teammates. No one is closer to Thomas than Blake Gideon, who started at free safety all 13 games last season, right next to Thomas, who started all 13 games at strong safety.
"I think Earl has really been all over the field this camp," Gideon said. "Anyone who came out to the open practices can say that. He has that hot motor. And it's great whenever you get a great athlete like that who has that hot motor. That's when you have something special.
"One thing you look for in a guy on defense is if they are always around the ball. And when we watch film, even if Earl doesn't make the play he's right there. He's always around the ball."
Mack Brown said Thomas has been the most consistent player in the secondary in camp.
"He's making the big plays," Brown said. Thomas knows the defense has to force more turnovers than the 16 Texas came up with last season (six interceptions/10 fumbles recovered).
"We're going to get as many as we can get our hands on," Thomas said. "We've been working real hard on that doing different ball drills and doing everything we can to help the defense. We've got a lot of potential. We're not close to that potential yet, but we can be one of the best defenses in the country. We just need to keep working hard."
You know a player has confidence and has his teammates' respect when he takes responsibility for a negative play. And that's what Thomas has done with regard to Michael Crabtree's game-winning touchdown for Texas Tech against Texas last year.
"I just wish I could have been over the top a little bit more," said Thomas, who was part of a double-team on Crabtree, along with Curtis Brown, on that play. "I took a bad angle. I told Curtis (Brown) that it was my fault. I take the blame for that play. But it's over. We're moving on."
Thomas said the entire defense is more confident in the second year of Will Muschamp's scheme.
"After the first year, the game is slowing down a lot," Thomas said. "We know all the coverages, and now we're focusing on giving teams different looks and help the D-line out."