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Joe Thomas—Among Others—Expected to Contribute More in 2017

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Joe Thomas—Among Others—Expected to Contribute More in 2017

The Packers want more out of their linebackers, both inside and outside, and it's not difficult to see why. It's been one of their weakest positions since 2011.

One member of the inside corps in particular still has an opportunity before him to heighten his role in the Packers' front seven, and that's Joe Thomas.

The fourth-year inside linebacker who was off to a strong start in 2016, appeared to be a non-factor around mid-season and quickly picked up where he left off to record 37 tackles over the last eight games of the season.

Thomas helped set the tone for the Packers' defense as early as the first drive in the first game of the season in Jacksonville where he snatched a bobbled interception; the first of his career.

His role was set in stone—or silver—as the Packers' dime linebacker, typically used in third down passing situations. His grasping of the position and continuous learning on securing the middle of the field was even demonstrated as recently as the team's practice on Wednesday.

Thomas has been dropping into coverage as of late, hoping to give the Packers some much-needed insurance at the heart of their defense.

Assistant linebackers coach Scott McCurley highlighted Thomas as someone who presumably needs to make a leap forward in 2017.

"If you want to show up, you want to make an impact and you want to stay on the field, you have to make plays at the end of the day," McCurley said. "It was good to see him make them in practice. That's got to translate into the preseason and season this year."

Thomas spent a brief portion of the 2015 season on the Cowboys' practice squad after being signed by the Packers as an undrafted free agent a year prior. Ultimately, he came full circle after being signed to the Packers' active roster in late September of 2015.

He would play in all 14 remaining games for the Packers that year.

A leap forward shouldn't be too much to ask of Thomas, who already demonstrated the enhancement of his abilities with the increase in playing time. He started seven games last season, recorded four more defended passes with his increased role in coverage and 53 more tackles.

"Come cut-down time at the end of the summer, the numbers just didn't work out for [Thomas] at that point," McCurley said. "We got into the season and we quickly found out we needed somebody to fill that role as a dime linebacker that year. We brought him back, and it's really just been his development in that role and consistently doing those things and continuing to grow there.

"Last year by the end of the year, he transitioned into more of a full-time nickel sub-type linebacker. We're hoping he continues to grow in that role as well."

Thomas' role is expanding, and it's going beyond being the first linebacker in team history to wear a No. 48 on the front and back of his jersey. If he plays his cards right, he'll reside in Green Bay for the long haul and be one of the movable pieces in an era of linebackers that is rapidly changing.

The NFL utilizes more and more hybrid-type linebackers whose primary positions are at the safety spot but are capable of playing in the box. Year after year, teams incorporate these players into their arsenal, including the Packers.

They spent one of their 2017 second round picks on one of these players in Josh Jones, a prototype safety who has already been seen making plays at his hybrid linebacker position in practices throughout the spring.

Thomas isn't alone, as he'll have Jones as well as his traditional linebacker counterparts in Jake Ryan and Blake Martinez, a third-year and second-year talent at their craft, respectively.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (16) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

RCPackerFan's picture

I have always liked Thomas. I saw a lot of potential when he was brought back from Dallas.
Last year he really improved his play. While he has struggles in the run game, he can get better there.

What I like most about him is his speed and ability to blow people up. He can also blitz effectively and can play in coverage.

I would like to see Thomas take another step this year. I don't think he has maxed out on his ability yet which should mean another jump in play.

gr7070's picture

I, too, like Thomas a lot more than most seem to. I could say the same about all our ILBs. Especially so regarding Martinez. Both these guys are good and Martinez could become very good.

PatrickGB's picture

Thomas filled the role that I expected Martinez to have. Martinez was supposed to be the pass coverage ILB we drafted to complement Ryan. The "Blake and Jake" team. However Joe came back leaner and faster and seemed hungry. We are stronger at MLB than I expected. And now with Morgan and Josh Jones also providing pass support closer to the LOS I expect better things this year. We have better depth. I wonder what that does to all the talk about Clay moving inside?

gr7070's picture

We are much, much better at ILB than most believe. I don't understand how most don't see what we have in the three ILBs, especially so in Martinez and Thomas, imo.

DesertPackFan's picture

Thomas really only played when first Ryan and then Martinez were injured. He's good fit as the ILB in nickel, but that role was only really available due to injuries to Ryan and Martinez. All things being equal, Martinez would be the nickel ILB.

Thomas actually didn't come back leaner and faster. He put weight on last offseason to be better able to play ILB on all downs, not just be a coverage LB.

“I felt like me being 225 was a little light and kind of limited me going against offensive linemen and things like that,” Thomas said. “So I just put on a little extra weight.” Thomas gained 10 pounds during the off-season by lifting weights and “a lot of eating,” per PackersNew.com "Bulked-up Thomas eyes expanded LB role. Michael Cohen, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 9:41 p.m. CT July 27, 2016

Its pretty clear that the Packers may play one ILB in nickel and no ILB in dame, since both Burnett and Jones would be better alternatives in coverage, not to mention possibly (probably?) Matrinez. I like Thomas, he's a good backup and decent in coverage.

ILB isn't a weakness anymore, and the extent to which it was is somewhat exaggeration. Yes it was a weakness, but not as much as fans made it out to be.

I don't see Matthews getting many reps at ILB. With Ryan and Martinez on run downs, Martinez, Thomas, Burnett and Jones in nickel and dime, there really isn't a need for Matthews at ILB. Packers need Matthews to take alot of snaps at OLB anyway, w/ the loss of Peppers and Datone Jones.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

The middle of the field has been wide open for several seasons. Some of that can be cured by ILBs getting better depth on their drops and having better quickness and anticipation, some by an upgrade from Hyde. I actually am not so sure Thomas gets an increase in snaps this year.

JohnnyLogan's picture

Think this has more to do with Capers schemes. We've been wide open in the middle for years, across many different LB's. They can't all have been that terrible. Capers is the one constant. My annual prayer, rid us of Capers.

gr7070's picture

More craziness from Packers fans I don't understand!

Capers has been coordinator for 8 years here.
- 4 top 10 defenses (including #2 twice!) without a ton of talent, except the earlier couple years.
- 2 years OK D.
- 2 years awful D, with squat for talent.

So 6 of 8 years were more than acceptable, and then consider the lack of talent.

Capers mostly suffers from two perception issues.
1. People largely attribute what weren't bad defenses as bad because the amazing O makes the traditional D stats look awful.
2. Lack of talent the last 4 years.

2016: #20 D. That's remarkable considering the injuries in the most important position group in football, after QB of course. We literally had 1 CB at times. Seriously 1. With five safeties playing in dime. That's insane!
2015: #9 D. Again remarkable with Datone and Perry sucking, no other pressure guys. Matthews ordinary play, as usual, and playing ILB.
2014: #16. Daniels was only good at that time. Matthews was ok at best and played ILB. Had a good shields. Not much talent again but solid D.
2013: #31. Whoops. No clue what happened. Too far back. I do believe Raji was gross (bad) by then, contrary to most fans perception.
2012: #8. Another top 10 D.
2011: #25. Everyone thought it was the worst D in the league, but with a historic O they literally just look worse than they are simply because of a good O. Granted FO rankings do account for that.
2010: #2 D!! Dom had talent; D kicked butt.
2009: #2 D!! Dom had talent; D kicked butt.

I don't see how Capers is a problem. I'd actually argue Ted is a bigger problem than Capers, and I am *not* saying Ted is a problem, mind you. I'm largely a Ted supporter.

DesertPackFan's picture

Capers has had to make due w/ a talent base significantly diminished by losses or injuries to Jenkins, Jolly, Bishop, Collins, Woodson, Tramon Williams, Raji, and others. That's alot of talent to lose.

It's also virtually impossible to replace that much talent in short order. Thompson did the best he could to replace it but it takes time. Especially when a couple were HOF type players, and a couple Pro Bowl players.

When Capers has the talent, he's fielded quality Defenses (as is the case w/ all D Coordintors). Hopefully, w/ this years draft and previous drafts the Packers will again have the talent needed.

jeremyjjbrown's picture

I want this guy to be successful, but I can't get his play in the NFC Championship game out of my head. Worst defensive play since Jerron McMillian.

gr7070's picture

I'd rather look at his play on the aggregate than a one-game sample.

That one game against a team on an offensive roll with a very good QB, two excellent receiving RBs, a HOF-level talent at WR1, and good supporting WRs and TEs.

marpag1's picture

I don't think Thomas is nearly as good in coverage as a lot of others do. His lack of size and stoutness makes him somewhat of a liability against the run. And for a linebacker, he's a poor tackler. He played a lot last year because of injury and poor performance from Martnez, Ryan etc. I see him as totally replaceable, unless he takes a good step up. He's a good backup.

DesertPackFan's picture

IMO, a backup is all Thomas was ever meant to be. So I just judge him based on that. If he's your starter at ILB by choice, he will be exposed and replaced. As a backup/spot starter he's fine. He's a backup/role player who has to be put only in situations he can succeed.

stockholder's picture

The quicker he gets replaced. The better for the packers. Can't Rush, Can't Tackle. He did improve. But I'll say it's OVER Achieved. His Stats just say he's nothing special. Another reason why the packers were blown out in Atlanta.

TJ Coon's picture

He definitely has his uses. I don't think I jumped off a couch too many times based on his play last season. He's definitely got a shot though. I like him.

Hoyt Harper's picture

ILB was the earliest part of the Packers defense. We got killed on short passes over the middle and/or backs swinging out wide. (Look at the playoff games). While I respect Joe Thomas' effort, he like Ryan and Martinez are a step or two too slow. Joe runs a 4.7 40 compared to Josh Jones 4.4. I expect Jones to take the majority of snaps in the nickel and dime. Lastly, I'm intrigued by David Talley's stats.., 4.5 40, 41 inch vertical etc. I bet the Pack move him to ILB in training camp and give him a look.

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