23. TINO THOMAS, 6-0, 190 ATH MEMPHIS [MELROSE HS]
Ratings: Rivals 3* No. 56 ATH, Scout 3* No. 93 WR, ESPN 3* No. 138 ATH, 247 3*. Chose UT over Southern Miss, Arkansas, Duke, Kentucky, Memphis and Mississippi State.
Looking back: A speedy athlete who was recruited as a big cornerback for the Vols, Thomas was on campus working out when he tore his labrum in July, causing him to miss the season. After UT had signed an extra player, Thomas became the odd man out and went home to rehab, taking a grayshirt. Given that he wouldn't be able to work out with the team and that Geraldo Orta was much further along in his rehabilitation, Thomas was asked to go home. He will re-join this year's class, and according to everything we've read recently, that appears to still be a go. Thomas was a standout athlete all the way around at Melrose, playing receiver, returning kicks, playing defensive back. The Vols want him as a DB, and he will likely have the opportunity to come in and help if he's completely healthy as he said.
Looking forward: Thomas is the only player who will be in both of these lists as he counts as a 2012 commitment and towards UT's 25 it can sign. Last year, he flirted some with Southern Miss, and there were thoughts that he could do that again prior to Larry Fedora leaving to be the new head coach at North Carolina. Now, it looks like Thomas will be a Vol sooner rather than later. Thomas has the tall, athletic frame UT coaches like at corner, and he has the potential to come in and play immediately as Justin Coleman did this year. But, as with Coleman, there will be a learning curve, so that could cause Thomas not to get on the field in 2012.
Final projection: It's so difficult to project cornerbacks, especially those who didn't necessarily play a lot of that position in high school, but Thomas looks like anything but a project. He's big, he's fast, he's very well put-together. He runs with a nice fluidity, and once he learns the nuances of the position, he has all the ability to be an explosive player. He also could help in the return game if the need arises. He should be firmly in the mix by 2013.