Fresh start good for LB, Packers

Ray Thompson has veered in a new direction with his pro football career. The linebacker traveled a rocky road in his first five seasons in the National Football League, and now feels a change of scenery will be good. Thompson has got nothing to lose, and neither does his new team, the Green Bay Packers.

Last year, Green Bay's starting linebacker trio of Na'il Diggs, Nick Barnett and Hannibal Navies finished with a total of 4.5 sacks and one interception. Big plays were few and far between from the linebackers. The Packers released Navies early in the off-season, then signed Thompson and re-signed Navies for the veteran's minimum.

Thompson comes to Green Bay with some baggage, but he checked it at the airport in Arizona and apparently has left it there. New team. New outlook. Higher expectations. New attitude.

"Basically it's a fresh start," said Thompson, a second-round pick of the Cardinals out of the University of Tennessee in 2000. "When you keep trying to hammer it with one organization, it doesn't work out. ... Five years and I've never really been knocking on the door to the playoffs. You come to an organization that wins a division year after year and you get a player like Brett Favre and they're talking about the Super Bowl ... that's the place you want to be instead of other teams just talking about getting to the playoffs. Consensus MVP, been to the Super Bowl, knows what it takes to get there. Super Bowl or bust. There's only one winner in this league and that's getting to the Super Bowl. That's the type of environment I want to be around."

Thompson, 27, has had some highs and lows with the Cardinals. His big season came in 2002 when he started all 16 games and finished with 139 tackles (81 solo) and 2 1/2 sacks. That big season led to a four-year, $11 million extension. But then the road became a little rough for the veteran linebacker.

Already entered into the league's substance abuse program (October of 2001) after his arrest for drunken driving, Thompson tested positive for alcohol on Sept. 29, 2003 and was suspended for the final four games of that season. He suffered a training-camp injury early last season and played in 11 games, recording 42 tackles and one sack. The writing clearly was on the wall for Thompson, and he was released by the Cardinals in April.

The Packers have a minimal investment in Thompson. He signed with Green Bay in April for the veteran's minimum of $540,000. If Thompson violates the substance abuse policy again, he will be suspended for one year. The Packers reportedly are testing him every other day.

Navies will push Thompson for a starting spot, but the quicker Thompson has much more ability to blitz than the bigger and slower Navies 6-foot-3, 245 pounds). Thompson (6-3, 232) is the same weight and an inch taller than Barnett.

"We've just got to see how he fits into this scheme and see how he competes for a position," said defensive coordinator Jim Bates about Thompson. "He's done a good job so far. We have to evaluate and see how he progresses."

So far so good for Thompson, who practiced with the first team defense in both minicamps. He feels good about playing in Bates' scheme, which calls for both outside linebackers to often switch positions.

"I prefer to play the weak side because I think I'm the type of linebacker that runs to the ball and makes plays," Thompson said. "I love to hit. Basically, that's the type of position I want to play. But the ‘Sam' (strong-side) and the ‘Will' (weak-side) are still basically about the same."

A good blitzer, hitter and tackler, Thompson has the ability to improve the Packers' corp of linebackers.

Todd Korth

Note: Todd Korth is managing editor of and Packer Report. E-mail him at

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