Thomas Sprinting to Dominance with the Packers

In only his second year, Joe Thomas is looking to reach new heights with his level of play on the field.

Very few players on the Packers' roster have made the jump from one campaign to another that second-year inside linebacker Joe Thomas has. While some may argue he beat out Carl Bradford for a spot on the final 53-man roster — and others may argue Bradford was simply declining, the feat is impressive nonetheless.

Coming off of a sluggish 2015 season in which he served as the team's primary dime linebacker, that tune hasn't changed in 2016. He's one of the team's three inside linebackers, providing depth support behind another second-year linebacker in Jake Ryan and the newfound maestro of that unit, Blake Martinez. Thomas' role in passing downs remains distinguished and so far, hasn't disappointed.

In his 25 snaps against he Jaguars, he was credited with a pass well-defensed and a measly two tackles. On top of those, however, is the tipped interception he and the Packers' defense were credited on the Jaguars' opening drive. Following the somewhat dubious performance in Jacksonville, Thomas saw a decreased snap count against the Vikings the following week — a measly 17 plays he was on the field. Even despite the decrease of 8 plays, Thomas more than doubled his tackle totals. Including an eye-popping tackle on Vikings' running back Jerick McKinnon in the backfield, someone the Packers may see shouldering the running game for the Vikings in December with Adrian Peterson sidelined by injury.

Thomas has performed with a well-displayed sense of urgency as the dime linebacker, capable of flying sideline to sideline and manning down the middle of the field. Whether he's improved in coverage has yet to be seen, but his personal norm of being a thumping run-stuffer showed flashes even dating back to last season.

He didn't see much of the field until he was signed off the team's practice squad once Sam Barrington was put on injured reserve for the rest of 2015. Thomas was reeled off of the Cowboys' practice squad just about a week after he landed there. Now with Barrington entirely out of the picture, Thomas shouldn't be making any other roster trips anytime soon.

Almost immediately, Thomas began creating an impact in the Packers' linebacking corps. He aided a Ha Ha Clinton-Dix interception against the Rams as well as forced a fumble in the red zone in San Francisco. Through the year, Thomas learned the dime role through trial and error. Now, he seems to have his forte down pat.

For a player who was on and off the practice squad, hampered by a knee injury at one point and now making headlines with his stellar performance, the Packers may have a hidden gem on their hands. 

"I'm just comfortable," Thomas told a reporter after Sunday's loss in Minnesota. "I'm playing a lot faster than I did last year."

14 games remain on the Packers' regular season schedule, equal to the amount Thomas participated in last year. This year, he's looking to provide the same momentous performance he flaunted in the first two weeks, but instead, carry it through all 16 contests. With the talent and number one-ranked run defense in terms of yards allowed around him, Thomas couldn't be in a better position.

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Zachary Jacobson is a staff writer/reporter for Cheesehead TV. He's the voice of The Leap on iTunes and can be heard on The Scoop KLGR 1490 AM every Saturday morning. He's also a contributor on the Pack-A-Day Podcast. He can be found on Twitter via @ZachAJacobson or contacted through email at [email protected].

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Comments (21)

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Nick Perry's picture

September 22, 2016 at 06:17 am

Dominance is pretty strong word but he's definitely made the most of his opportunity while on the field. I always criticize Thompson for adding so many UDFA's opposed to a Veteran who might not have to learn for 2 or 3 years, but Thomas is paying off so far pretty quickly. Between Ryan, Martinez, and Thomas, the Packers now have some options at ILB. It doesn't "Feel" like there's just a body out there or a feeling Matthews HAS to be there for the Packers to be effective at the position. I like what they have as a group at ILB now.

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Ibleedgreenmore's picture

September 22, 2016 at 06:19 am

This kid is playing just great, very impressed with the fire in him. Now if we can get the rest of the team to play like he does we will win.

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Zachary Jacobson's picture

September 22, 2016 at 06:23 am

Personally think the defense has played exceptionally well minus the secondary - and rightfully so considering how battered and bruised the CBs are.
Front seven has been great. Offense needs to get going and both sides of the ball will be tremendous. At least that's how I look at it.

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Nick Perry's picture

September 22, 2016 at 06:29 am

Is Shields going to be cleared this week??? God I hope so!

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rdent's picture

September 22, 2016 at 07:26 am

Worked out Monday but not at practice Wednesday and haven't heard anything from MM,Hawkins is back at practice from hamstring so at least they may have him if needed

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dobber's picture

September 22, 2016 at 07:46 am

I can't imagine he will be. My bet is that they'll try to get him through the bye week. Remember how bad he was that first week back after the concussion last year?

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rdent's picture

September 22, 2016 at 10:11 am

I am thinking the same thing,he's had what 4 now,it took me months to recover from one I got last year when I was run over by a car,I was glad to see Hawkins back at practice,it might be a while for Sam,Abberderis missed 13 practices last year

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Nick Perry's picture

September 22, 2016 at 04:15 pm

I would imagine a concussion is a concussion, but that one last year and the way he SMACKED his head and it just kinda bounced up off the ground was tough to watch. As soon as that happened I knew he was out for a few games which ended up at 4 I think. Well here's to a speedier recovery Sam!

I thought his first game back was Arizona in the playoffs wasn't it???

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GVPacker's picture

September 22, 2016 at 04:34 pm

I hope Sam Shields is ok and back in the lineup but I 'am concerned about his career. He's seems to be concussion prone and his long term health must be considered!

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Allan Murphy's picture

September 23, 2016 at 03:31 pm

It's not looking good his time may be over it sounds like ......

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Razer's picture

September 22, 2016 at 06:48 am

Yeah, got to be pleased with the play of the defense. For me that starts in the trenches. Daniels and Guion have been forces and that makes everyone's job easier. Let's hope the injury to Guion doesn't change the load of the ILB.

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RCPackerFan's picture

September 22, 2016 at 06:59 am

Pretty much everyone here knows how I feel about Thomas.
I thought he was better last year then what people wanted to give him credit for. That being said he really has taken a major step this year. You can see that he has added bulk without taking away his speed. He is playing faster and is hitting harder.

One of the biggest difference with our ILB's this year is we have ILB's that can cover sideline to sideline. A vast difference from the past.

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Since '61's picture

September 22, 2016 at 07:12 am

With the exception of D. Randall in Minnesota the Packers defense has played well enough to win 2 games on the road. If we ever have a punter who can help win the field position battle and once the offense gets going again this defense can be a force to he reckoned with. Thomas has been playing with the reckless abandon and a sense of urgency that I like to see from the ILB corps. Prior to TC I didn't expect Thomas to make the team but I'm glad I was wrong and that he did make the final 53. In fact, unlike previous seasons the entire defense is finally playing with a sense of urgency and aggressiveness that has long been missing. Hopefully it will continue as the season goes on. Go Pack Go! Thanks, Since '61

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GVPacker's picture

September 22, 2016 at 04:43 pm

Good point Since '61, One of TT biggest Brain Farts was cutting Jon Ryan. The viqueens offense had a short field more than once sunday night due to the Packers lack of offensive productivity and poor punting!

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stockholder's picture

September 22, 2016 at 07:17 am

Sprinting to Dominance? Really ? The guy sucked so bad last year, they were ready to try Burnett at ILB. And now you dump on Bradford. Thomas still misses open field tackles. But at least he's making a few and not getting caught up in Traffic. Thats the change. He's learned how to avoid the blocks. Something he should have shown last year when they put him there. I'll give Capers and Moss the credit first. Before Thomas! With only 1 sack last year, he's not a force. I still don't believe he has the speed to be Dominate in coverage. Let alone the dime role. He's a young man that will never be a gem. Why, because of the talent around him. If Perry, Jones, Mathews and Peppers leave, so will his being Comfortable. It's the guys who have your back that make the difference. He's able to charge instead of defend. So my belief is, he's playing over his head. ( Lower snap counts?) This defense is better because of Perry, Jones and Mathews. They made Thomas better.

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rdent's picture

September 22, 2016 at 09:29 am

Thomas Pro Day stats: 40yd - 4.70-4.73.
20yd- 2.77.
20yd shuttle- 4.60.
Martinez Combine stats: 40 yd-4.71.
20yd-NA.
20yd shuttle-4.20

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rdent's picture

September 22, 2016 at 07:31 am

Still early but I think that they are better there than the last several years

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dobber's picture

September 22, 2016 at 07:35 am

"...and others may argue Bradford was simply declining,"

Don't you have to have some degree of elevation before you can decline?

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rdent's picture

September 22, 2016 at 09:40 am

Looked better this year in preseason but as we all know ended up on PS and doubt any team will sign him unless really desperate

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dobber's picture

September 22, 2016 at 09:57 am

He's essentially the Packers "4th ILB" in waiting.

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Debbie Yacoby's picture

September 23, 2016 at 11:02 pm

Don't like it, don't read. It's really very simple.

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