Fresh start for Thomas, Ferguson

Robert Ferguson and Joey Thomas have been in the starting lineup before for the Green Bay Packers. And both have lost their jobs either to injury or performance. This Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, both will be back in the starting lineup, and both are looking forward to their newfound opportunity.

Coach Mike Sherman said Wednesday that Thomas will start in place of the embattled Ahmad Carroll at left cornerback opposite Al Harris. Carroll was penalized three times in Green Bay's 17-3 loss to the Detroit Lions Sunday. Those penalties coupled with the number of flags against him last year opened the door for Thomas. The opportunity to start was all the second-year pro was hoping to receive.

"That's all the matters," Thomas said. "The only thing that matters is that you get the opportunity. It's up to you to take advantage of it."

Thomas played in 14 games last season for the Packers with no starts. He entered training camp as the starter at cornerback ahead of Carroll, but hip and calf injuries kept him out of most of training camp. Thomas played against the Lions and finished with two tackles while breaking up two passes.

Thomas is excited about his opportunity, but taking it in stride.

"I just stick to my game plan, go out there, play football and concentrate on making plays."

Ferguson returns to the starting lineup on a regular basis since early in the 2004 season. Last year, Ferguson was passed up on the depth chart by Javon Walker, who finished with a team-high 89 catches for 1,382 yards. Though Ferguson said he entered this season with mindset that he is the team's top receiver, he realistically was No. 3 behind Walker and Donald Driver until Walker's season-ending knee injury at Detroit.

"Being a starter does not surprise me," Ferguson said. "I've been playing hard from the start. It's just an opportunity for me, man. It's hard to put into words because of what I went through last year. Everything is in place for me to have a big year this year, and it would be a shame for me to not take advantage of it."

Ferguson had 24 catches for 367 yards in 13 games last year. His season came to a skidding halt last December on a clothesline hit by Jacksonville safety Donovin Darius. Ferguson said that he has suffered no ill effects from the injury and is "110 percent" recovered.

"I was ready before the injury," Ferguson said. "I've been saying that all along. For it to actually happen is not like my eyes are wide open, or it caught me off guard. I've been preparing for this in the off-season. I was ready for this last year until I got hurt. It's a desire for me to go out there and be a No. 1 – period. The injury is unfortunate for Javon, but at the same time, it has given me opportunities."

Ferguson said that rookie Terrence Murphy will be taking his place as a kickoff returner. But Ferguson still will be standing by to return kickoffs or punts in an "as needed" basis.


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