A diamond in the rough?

Thompson pushing Martin for No. 3 quarterback spot on roster

You can't blame your eyelids.

It's the fourth quarter of a meaningless preseason game. Scratching and clawing for anything to say, the announcers are even droning out. They want to pack it in. So why not you? A restful sleep is a click away.

Don't give in. Once an unknown afterthought, Oklahoma quarterback Paul Thompson is suddenly giving Ingle Martin everything he can handle for the No. 3 QB job. Whereas Martin has steadily digressed from the first day of training camp, Thompson is heating up.

Martin is scheduled to play the entire fourth quarterback at Pittsburgh with the favor returning to Thompson against Seattle next week. More than any 7-on-7 crispness or meeting room prowess, these two games will dictate who wins a roster spot behind Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers.

Expect the training camp trend to continue through preseason. Thompson's potential is too much to allocate to the practice squad. Maybe his knowledge of the offense doesn't touch Martin's right now. It doesn't matter. Neither of them will be thrown into action this season anyways. The last time Green Bay's No. 3 QB got snaps in an undecided regular season game (not mop-up duty) Brett Favre was 26 years old. In 1995, No. 2 Ty Detmer and No. 3 T.J. Rubley were thrown into Metrodome chaos and lost 27-24.

The Packers should take a stab at raw talent.

Thompson's cannon arm, above-average athleticism, and mysterious potential warrant clipboard holding this season. Let him learn the offense and experience McCarthy's quarterback's school. Rodgers' progress proves that a quarterback can get up to speed in this offense within two years. Don't anoint Thompson as the post-Favre savior quite yet, but what's wrong with keeping a possible ace in your back pocket for a couple years?

Thompson has more untapped potential than Martin. It would be foolish to let it slip into the waiver wire.

In Thursday night's practice, Thompson continued to show glimpses of his potential. Like Martin, he had multiple overthrows, but unlike Martin, Thompson provided a few ‘Did you just see that!?' highlights.

In one of his rare 11-on-11 snaps, Thompson lofted a perfect, in-stride 40-plus-yard bomb to receiver Chris Francies. Cornerback Antonio Malone had decent coverage and safety Tyrone Culver even supplied support over the top, yet Thompson put the ball in the only place it could be. Deep and over Francies' shoulder.

His flick-of-the-wrist delivery brings flashbacks of Randall Cunningham on Oct. 5, 1998. It's strong and effortless, a major contrast to Ingle Martin's questionable arm strength. Also, Thompson's accuracy is miles ahead of where it was the first day of camp.

His confidence in the offense is growing. His confidence in himself is booming.

"I'm definitely not planning on being on the practice squad," the 6-4, 216-pound Thompson said. "Everyone here is trying to take someone else's spot, and I'm trying to do the same," Thompson said. "The No. 3 spot is what I'm going for, and I feel like I have the ability to take it. That's my mindset. We'll go from there."

Thompson could be a classic diamond in the rough. At Oklahoma he was stuck behind 2003 Heisman Trophy winner Jason White for two seasons. Thompson won the starting job in 2005, only to be yanked after a lackluster performance in the Sooners' opening loss to Texas Christian. Rhett Bomar was inserted behind center and Thompson was shifted to wide receiver, where he caught 11 passes for 106 yards that season. The next year, Bomar violated NCAA regulations by accepting money (for work not completed) from a car dealership owned by a major University of Oklahoma donor. Now a senior, a rejuvenated Thompson threw for 2,590 yards and 21 touchdowns. The Sooners earned a bid in the Fiesta Bowl, losing to Boise State 43-42 in a game ESPN Classic will re-run for an eternity.

Despite Thompson's turnaround, zero NFL teams initially allowed him a shot at quarterback. The New York Jets signed Thompson as a receiver, but when the Packers offered him a quarterback gig at training camp, the Sooner shifted gears. He hasn't looked back.

Thompson doesn't look like a Kordell Stewart in disguise. He isn't a receiver playing quarterback. His natural athletic ability is accompanied by an NFL arm. His best attribute, though is a certain swagger of moxie. Fourth on the depth chart, Thompson is playing with nothing to lose, compared to Martin who appears very high-strung at times.

"He's always the fourth guy in line, which is just the nature of the beast," Packers G.M. Ted Thompson said. "But when he gets in there, I think he carries himself pretty well. He stands, (he's a) nice-looking athlete, stands tall in the pocket. I think he's got a good arm. He's made a few good throws, and he can move around a little bit. There's a little something about him."

Thompson won't have an opportunity to gain more ground on Saturday, but Martin may let him. Martin faces a deep Pittsburgh team and must move the offense to regain momentum in the No. 3 QB race.

The job is still Martin's to lose, but his grip is slipping. Thompson doesn't see himself as a practice squad project. He's playing with a chip on his shoulder and is no doubt pinpointing Aug. 18 on his schedule. If Thompson's potential continues to translate into production within McCarthy's complicated offense, Martin is in trouble.

That is more than enough intrigue to keep those eyelids wide open into the night Saturday.

Tyler Dunne

Tyler Dunne is a student at Syracuse University. He is in Green Bay covering the Packers during training camp for PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at tydunne07@yahoo.com.

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