A week after being told tryouts are over after a rocky NFL debut marked by passive play, rookie defensive end Jeremy Thompson rose to the occasion during last week's game at Seattle.
With starter Cullen Jenkins on injured reserve, Mike Montgomery and Jason Hunter likely out with injuries and veteran Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila practically invisible, Thompson figures to see plenty of playing time on Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts' prolific offense.
Thompson was tentative and pushed around in limited action against Atlanta but played with urgency against the Seahawks.
"Just being a little more comfortable with how the game will play out," Thompson, a fourth-round pick out of Wake Forest, said. "It kind of just jumped on me the week before. I didn't really know what to expect, but coming into last week, I kind of knew what it would be like to get out there in a real NFL game."
Thompson had one tackle and two assists while practically splitting snaps with Gbaja-Biamila last week. His best play came when he beat Pro Bowl left tackle Walter Jones with an inside move to thwart a third-and-1 running play.
McCarthy wouldn't go so far as to say Thompson had earned a spot in the starting lineup, but it's clear the rookie will play a lot of snaps while Montgomery's ankle heals.
"Starting, what is starting anymore? It depends on what does the offense put on the field first," McCarthy said. "I think Jeremy Thompson definitely improved from two weeks ago to last week. I was pleased with how well he played as far as the speed of the game and so forth, so he'll definitely have some more opportunities as we move forward."
Standout defensive end Aaron Kampman, who had two sacks against Seattle, noticed the rookie's improved play.
"I think he's being more aggressive, and that's what this game is about," Kampman said. "He's getting experienced, gaining confidence and going out and producing."
Kampman will need all the help he can get. Not just against the Colts' Peyton Manning on Sunday but down the road.
Jenkins played defensive tackle on passing downs and was the Packers' best interior rusher. Without him, any push up the middle will be a pleasant surprise. Thus, the onus is on Kampman and whoever lines up opposite him to harass the quarterback from the edge.
Gbaja-Biamila, the Packers' all-time sacks leader, had 9.5 sacks last season but hasn't even recorded a quarterback pressure since Week 2 against Detroit. Perhaps it's his immense pride speaking, but he says he's recovered from offseason knee surgery. Nonetheless, the quick burst that made him such a lethal weapon on passing downs has been nonexistent.
Thompson, who had 6.5 sacks as a senior, hasn't shown that type of capability, either during training camp practices or his limited opportunities during the regular season. But, his pass-rushing potential is why general manager Ted Thompson, for the first time in his career, moved up in the draft to grab him.
"I want to see him use his speed and length as a pass rusher," defensive ends coach Carl Hairston said. "That's something that just takes time for a younger guy. It might take a year, it might take two years. But once a young guy learns how to use what's given to him, then he'll be good at it."
It would be nice for the future to be now. Manning has yet to find a secondary he can't dissect if given time.
"He's healthy now, so he's going to be in tiptop shape against us," Thompson said of Manning, who missed all of the preseason after knee surgery but had his first big game (19-of-28, 271 yards, three touchdowns) last week against Baltimore. "We've just got to execute and be gap sound in the run game and relentless in the pass rush. The DBs are going to take care of their business."
Bill Huber is editor of Packer Report and PackerReport.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org