Ready for Impact

ATHENS -- <b>Jon Fabris</b> heard the whispers from other coaches. Georgia defensive end <b>Will Thompson</b>, who is coming off a dislocated ankle that kept him out the entire 2003 season, was struggling in mat drills, the coaches were saying. Thompson didn't come through Fabris' section during the strenuous off-season conditioning drills, Fabris was left to assume the worst heading into spring practice.

"I thought, 'Well I'll have to see how it goes,'" said Jon Fabris, the Bulldogs' defensive ends coach. "I may have to hold him out of this or that."

Midway through spring practice, Will Thompson has made it through every practice.

"He hasn't pulled out of anything, man," Fabris said. "I'm very pleased he's been able to practice and not only to practice but start the practice and finish the practices. There are a lot of people who have what he had who wouldn't be out there.

"He's tougher than the average guy."

Thompson admits he struggled during mat drills but said his ankle has held up fine during spring workouts.

"I'm basically trying to start over and rebuild and try to catch up with everybody else," he said. "Everybody else has gotten a lot better."

Thompson was one of those getting a lot better when he was injured. He appeared to peak in Georgia's 26-13 win over Florida State in Sugar Bowl following the 2002 season. He had five tackles and two sacks in that game, and "probably should have been the MVP," Fabris said.

Then, on Aug. 19, 2003, he dislocated his right ankle in a preseason practice, ending his junior season before it started. Thompson will play this year as a senior but could receive another year of eligibility from the NCAA.

For now, the Bulldogs are just happy to have him back playing opposite All-American David Pollack. Robert Geathers, who held that spot last year, left early for the NFL in part because he saw his playing time slipping with Thompson's return.

As long as Thompson remains healthy, he is almost certain to regain his starting job, but he is assuming nothing.

"He hasn't come in like, 'I'm back. I'm the starter,'" Fabris said. "He hasn't been complacent. He wants to be out there. He wants to be getting better."

Thompson's focus this spring is to hone his fundamentals, particularly his hand placement, he said. The results halfway through have been encouraging, his coaches said.

"He looks real good," Coach Mark Richt said. "He's still not as strong as he's going to be, but he looks very healthy."

The long layoff caused Thompson to add a few pounds. He weighs 265, which is 35 more pounds than he weighed when he walked off the field after the Sugar Bowl.

"I think he's got to find out what a good playing weight is going to be for him," Richt said, "but he seems to be carrying it around pretty good."

Thompson wants to get down to 255 during the summer, but for now he's concentrating on regaining the form he had in 2002, he said. How close he is to that level probably won't be known until the fall.

"It's kind of hard to tell," Thompson said, "that was a while back."

NOTES: ... Wide receiver Tyson Browning, who was originally thought to have a dislocated thumb, might have a fractured thumb, which probably would keep him out the remainder of spring practice.

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