Weight is an issue, as it has and probably will be throughout his career. Thomas is on a perpetual reducing plan, but Browning stresses the advantages of long-term weight loss.
"We need to continue to work on his weight, which he's doing," Bunting said. "He's made a commitment to that."
Spread out at an angle, Thomas can easily tie up two offensive linemen. He's a natural hole plugger. But Thomas also has the potential to become a mainstay on the Tar Heels' defensive front for years to come; if, he can continue to absorb the accelerated teaching he's receiving these final days of his first spring practice and into preseason camp.
"He's going to be on the field this year," head coach John Bunting said. "He's got strength – very, very strong. He's a guy that can possibly replace Shelton Bynum a year from now."
Bunting believes Thomas is the first Division I caliber football player to come out of North Moore High School, which also produced former vice-presidential candidate John Edwards. Thomas was a beloved figure trolling the halls of North Moore -- his magnetic demeanor gentle as a mother's love.
But is he tough enough to battle game in and game out in one of the most physically demanding spots on the field? And one where the Tar Heels expect to be deeper and more talented than in recent memory?
Toughness is not so much bred as developed over time in conjunction with increased confidence. Consider the hardening of Thomas – both physically and mentally – officially underway.
"The toughness issue is something that really gets developed over time," Bunting said. "It's hard for those first year guys coming in to develop it. It has to be demanded. It has to be taught. And the leadership has to help teach it, not just the coaches."
A workhorse fullback in high school, Thomas ran for 800 yards and 12 touchdowns as a senior. But Browning is teaching him technique on the defensive line now. He also led the team with 50 tackles on defense, but offense was where he played the most snaps at the prep level.
"He's a very willing pupil," Browning said. "I think he wants to be a good player. This has been a great spring for him to get this amount of work, and the physical nature of the position – just learning it. I'm pleased with his progress.
"He's got some talent, but he's still trying to change his body around from a conditioning standpoint."