April 10, 2014
By Tom Weber
CARBONDALE, Ill. - Southern Illinois junior safety Anthony Thompson led the team in interceptions and pass breakups last year. He also had a 100-yard interception return two years ago at Youngstown State. Thompson talked about the changes to the Saluki defense and secondary in a Q&A after Wednesday's practice.
What has coach David Elson brought to the secondary or things he's done differently?
"He really has us concentrating on our footwork, a lot of back-pedaling, change-of-direction, break on the ball drills for the safeties. He's made it a lot easier for the safeties to be safeties and not always be in the run (defense). He's been a big change and we definitely needed that."
What specifically has he helped you with?
"The drills he puts us through help me get a better break on the ball and a better read on the quarterback. Where your eyes are and your vision, those are key, so that you can read whether it's a run or a pass."
Coach Lennon has emphasized making big plays on defense, which is something you've been good at your first two years, thinking back to the 100-yard interception return at Youngstown State two years ago, and leading the team in interceptions last year. What's the secret to making big plays?
"You have to stay focused, and if you make a mistake, don't worry about it -- make the next play. I was blessed enough to make some big plays, but it comes from staying focused and reading our keys and finding the right time to make the play."
You started a number of games at the end of last season, what are your goals for this year?
"This year I want to be a starter. Last year, I started the three games and got two picks. I felt if I had been starting earlier, I could have possibly produced a lot more. I guess it wasn't my time."
"I think it's reading the quarterback and making plays on the ball. What I need to get better at is coming downhill and attacking the run."
The defense is expected to be a strength of this team with so many returning starters. How confident are you that the defense can be a dominant unit?
"We're very confident. We're like an A+. The new defense we're doing, we picked it up fast. Now we just have to play football and play fast with it."
Has there been an adjustment to having Coach Lennon be both your defensive coordinator and head coach?
"You have to identify whether he's coaching you as the DC (defensive coordinator) or the head coach. As the DC, he's part of the defense now, and he's going to push you, push you and yell at you. You have to know how to relax, take it and move forward. As the head coach, he's a little more laid back, he's Coach Lennon, he's a good guy, and I respect him a lot because he knows what he's doing."
Coach Lennon is still using the 3-4 defense, but what changes has he made versus last year?
"He likes a lot of zone pressures, he likes man coverage, which we didn't really run a lot last year. He spoke about that to us and said he wanted to let Coach (Bubba) Schweigert do his thing, he didn't want to intervene, but with him now as the coordinator, we're safeties. We can cover guys, play in space -- last year we were always in the run."
You're a native of Canada, which isn't known as a football factory, is it?
"There are a lot of players from Canada who play in college, but they stay east -- schools like UConn, Boston area, close to the Canadian border. I was the first one to go all the way to the West coast."
How did you wind up at UCLA?
"I first was recruited by Arkansas, but I didn't want to go there, so they told UCLA, and as soon as they saw my film, they called me immediately. I went for a visit, fell in love with the place and committed."
How did you end up transferring from UCLA to Southern?
"The coaching staff got fired, and I stayed there for spring ball, and the new coach liked me in spring ball, but he had a lot of recruits coming in, so I decided not to take a chance. SIU called me up, they called my mom, I just gave it a try and I really like it here."