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New Linebacker Tries To Master Scheme Quickly


Linebacker Robert Thomas' Labor Day weekend became quite labor intensive.

"We've been working him around the clock," head coach Mike Sherman said.

After the Green Bay Packers traded cornerback Chris Johnson to the St. Louis Rams for his services, Thomas arrived in Green Bay, Wis. on Sunday and studied his new playbook at Lambeau Field until 11 p.m. He spent all of Monday watching film before practicing with the team at 6:15 p.m.

The Packers want him to learn the defense quickly because they view him as an integral part of the team.

His ability to play several positions will make a versatile defense even more so. Fellow linebackers Roy Manning and Paris Lenon spent time at each linebacker position during training camp while Na'il Diggs played both outside spots before injuring his knee.

"I played all three positions in St. Louis," Thomas said. "I'm pretty aware of each."

Sherman said he will play the middle or weakside linebacker.

Along with his versatility, the 6-0, 233-pound Thomas has the skills suited for the Packers' new scheme. His nose for the ball, change-of-direction ability and pursuit skills matches a Packers defense, which calls for smaller, quicker linebackers to make fast reads.

"I can tell by the scheme already," he said. "I'm a great fit for this defense."

Ever since most scouting services rated him the nation's best high school linebacker in 1997, few have questioned his athletic ability. At the 2002 combine, Thomas ran 40 yards in 4.51 seconds and registered a 34-inch vertical jump. The Rams drafted him with the 31st pick in the first round of the 2002 NFL draft largely because of those skills.

He has mental attributes as well. Thomas said he is a quick study and remains hopeful he will play against the Detroit Lions on Sunday.

"I've been catching on pretty well," he said. "I'm a smart guy. I think I can handle it."

Sherman said he did not make any mental errors during Monday's practice.

Injuries, however, have slowed Thomas' progress since entering the NFL. A groin injury in 2003 cost him four games while an ankle injury hindered him last year.

In an effort to stay more durable, Thomas spent the offseason doing more conditioning, including rigorous runs up hills.

"I extended my workouts to a higher level," he said.

The most difficult challenge for the Imperial, Calif. native and UCLA graduate may be Green Bay's frigid winters.

"I've played in cold weather games before," he said, "But now I'll be living in it. So that will take some getting used to."

He experienced a non-climate-related jolt on Saturday. He was in his kitchen making dinner when he heard of the trade.

"I was pretty shocked by it," he said.

That surprise did not dampen his enthusiasm about joining the Packers and starting a new season.

"It's like a family here," he said. "I'm excited. I can't wait to get going."

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