Dennis Thames is a safety learning on the job with the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
Because of depth issues at safety, Thames has been thrown into the mix after being redshirted in 2009.
MSU head football coach Dan Mullen recruited Thames as a safety, but decided to experiment some with the Louisville native at wide receiver before putting him back into the defensive backfield last spring.
"We're trying to find a home for him," Mullen said. "He came in and looked good doing some things as receiver so we put him there. We realized with the depth situation, he would probably help us more at safety. We moved him back to safety and we were fortunate to be able to redshirt him last year."
Thames showed the versatility at Louisville High School to play anywhere on the field. He was considered the No. 20 athlete in the country by national recruiting web site Rivals.com.
Thames contributed on both sides of the football for the Wildcats and that's the reason he attracted attention from colleges like Alabama, Auburn, Tennessee, Arkansas, Ole Miss and Michigan before committing to the Bulldogs in January 2009.
After redshirting, Thames has been thrust into action this season and has played in all five games.
"I've just been able to get out there and play with the guys I've been practicing with," Thames said after Wednesday's practice. "Things are going well and I've been playing a little bit more. I'm trying to make more plays and get on the field more."
Even though Thames welcomes more playing time, MSU defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said "realistically" Thames shouldn't be getting on the field as much as he has on defense.
"He should be running down on kickoffs and making plays," Diaz said. "If you had a program where you want this to be in four years, he wouldn't be able to sniff the field on defense until year two or three and all of a sudden, he'd be better prepared for assignments. We're so desperate for guys that you are playing guys ahead of their time."
Even though it may be a bit premature, Diaz and Mullen both credit Thames for his play-making ability for the defense. He has seven tackles, including one tackle for a loss.
"He's come along," Mullen said. "Hopefully, we'll keep seeing great improvement. He has a long way to go before he's an every down player for us, but he does have a nose for the football. He's following the right track to be successful."
The thing that keeps Thames from being that "every down player" for the Bulldogs is knowing all of his assignments.
Diaz has been using Thames on certain third-down packages. He started out there early in the season, was taken out and put back in for the Alcorn State game.
"Dennis can make a play and is a good football player," Diaz said. "He's physical, can run and tackle, but if we are playing man-to-man and he's not covering his man, it makes it hard to play good defense so he's having to learn there's more to the game than see ball and go get ball. When he does that, he's going to be a pretty good player for us."
One of the main reasons why Diaz doesn't mind giving the young defensive back early playing time is because the situation may arise expectedly when Thames could all of a sudden have more responsibility.
Diaz said that's true at any position.
"Guys in theory that are five and six in the batting order at defensive end are suddenly three and four," Diaz said. "Three and four are going to play for us. We have to make sure No. 5 might be ready. You don't know what's going to happen in the game. You hope that inspires everyone else on the team. That might be a linebacker, or defensive back.
"You never know when it's your time to be called and you've got to continue to work on your game."
Thames respects Mullen, Diaz and the rest of the coaching staff and just wants to contribute any way he can.
"We've got great coaches, a great defense and a great offense," Thames said. "I fit in good with the system so I'm ready just to make plays and have some fun playing football."
Thames says fans from his hometown are always ready to show him some love and support him on the football field.
He might have to forgive some of the people in Louisville if part of their focus is on his uncle Marcus Thames and the New York Yankees.
Marcus and the Yankees began the defense of their World Series title on Wednesday.
Dennis is proud of what Marcus has been able to accomplish professionally.
"It's good just to see him playing with the Yankees, Derek Jeter and all of those guys," Dennis said. " I went up there and watched him play, met his teammates, hung out with the guys and they are nice people. I hope they win the World Series."