WR copes with tough break

Thurman in running to make team despite broken thumb

Andrae Thurman's broken thumb hasn't snapped his desire to earn a roster spot with the Green Bay Packers. The wide receiver has been participating in practices despite the injury. His determination combined with his ability to catch the ball and return punts and kickoffs has kept him in the running to make the team.

Thurman entered training camp low on the Packers' totem pole of receivers. Two days into practices, his uphill climb got a little steeper when he sustained a hairline fracture to his left thumb while catching balls off the Jugs machine after practice.

Receivers frequently practice catching balls fired out of the machine at a close range for a couple of reasons. It helps them adjust to Brett Favre's bullets and improves their hand-eye coordination. Unfortunately, Thurman was blinded briefly by the sun while attempting to catch a "pass" and the ball hit him squarely at the top of this thumb, causing a hairline fracture.

"They said it will be four to six weeks to heal, but I'm trying to get out here and do the best I can right now," Thurman said.

Thurman, to his credit, realizes that he doesn't have time to sit on the sideline and watch. After a few days, he returned in time to participate in the team's scrimmages against the Buffalo Bills. He also played in Green Bay's first preseason game against the San Diego Chargers. While he didn't catch any passes, he had impressive kickoff returns of 32 and 34 yards.

Thurman also can return punts, but his broken thumb makes it difficult for him to make a clean catch off of a punt. "It's tough to squeeze," he said. "I can't really feel the ball in my thumb. I didn't know how important my thumb was until you break it."

With rookie Terrence Murphy sidelined with a knee injury, Thurman has a golden opportunity to make an impression Saturday when the Packers play their second exhibition game at Buffalo. Thurman's main competition for the fifth receiver spot are second-round pick Terrence Murphy, who has been slowed by injuries in camp, and rookie sixth-round pick Craig Bragg, who also returns punts and kickoffs. The team's top four receivers are Javon Walker, Donald Driver, Robert Ferguson and Antonio Chatman.

"Between the opportunity sessions and minicamps, he has opened some eyes here and improved his stock," says wide receivers coach James Franklin of Thurman.

Thurman played in the Packers' final two regular season games last year in place of the injured Ferguson. He caught two passes for 12 yards against the Minnesota Vikings on Christmas Eve, the returned three kickoffs for 59 yards the following week at Chicago.

Thurman feels he can do more in training camp, but he has had to adjust to catching the ball differently instead of catching passes and reacting.

"I've been really, really frustrated with my thumb," Thurman said. "I'm a big hands catcher. I catch with my hands. Having to change the way I catch the ball, pocket catch the ball, is a little frustrating. I'm working with it, just trying to get better."


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