The former Florida State standout struggled to find his footing in the team’s offense during his first four years in Washington. While Thompson occasionally gave fans and coaches glimpses of the dangerous triple-threat offensive weapon he would become, injuries and inexperience kept him relegated mostly to the sidelines.
Until this season, that is. During the Redskins’ first six games of 2017, the Greenville, Florida native emerged as a breakout offensive star, leading the team in rushing and receiving. Sounding relieved, enlightened and newly confident in his career, Thompson told On Tap Magazine during a half-hour telephone conversation that a revamped approach to the game, including a healthier diet and mindset, has helped carry him to a higher level of play.
“This is probably the most confidence I’ve had in myself since college,” Thompson said. “I really didn’t know if I was good enough to play in this league for a long time,” the veteran back added, explaining how he developed a bad habit of measuring himself against other NFL rushers with similar styles but different team circumstances or physical attributes. “I would compare myself to them, but that was the wrong way of going about it. I am who I am and I need to be the best self that I can.”
The average career of an NFL player is less than three years, so Thompson’s five seasons in the league is extraordinary – especially considering he is just 5 feet 7 inches tall and less than 190 pounds. The suddenly pivotal Redskins playmaker said he’s comfortable as the team’s second back, and happy in his role as a playmaker who can help the team convert big third downs while avoiding the punishing load of repetitive carries between tackles.
It’s not that Thompson doesn’t want the ball more – he insisted he does – but he said he trusts head coach Jay Gruden’s plan for him. The quick-shifting running back also credited a long line of coaches who taught him to compensate for his lack of size with a well-rounded game.
“My coaches really worked hard to make sure I was a good, all-around back,” Thompson said. “Being a smaller guy, my skill set had to be very diverse. I needed to be a pass catcher; obviously a good runner and have good pass blocking, and even be a possible kick or punt return man. I’ve worked on all that my whole life.”
Thompson said he’s worked hard to adjust to the speed of the game since arriving in the NFL. He’s no slouch in the speed department himself, clocking 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash. But he said in the pros, even the bigger guys seem to move in a flash.
“The slower guys play quicker than they do in college because they see things before they develop,” Thompson explained. “That comes with time and experience. With this being my fifth year, I’ve been able to get a really good feel for the mental side of the game, too. I’ve been able to slow the game down a little bit.”
He also said curbing a serious sugar jones – no easy feat for a self-described candy addict – helped him trim seven pounds off of his already compact frame in the last off-season. Thompson now plays at 188 pounds compared to the 195 he played at in 2016.
“I cut my body fat down a lot and that’s helped me with quickness, and I’ve been able to turn that fat into muscle,” he said. “I’ve lost some weight, but I feel more explosive.”
While experience and hard work have helped Thompson establish himself in the NFL even despite his own misgivings, his head coach never doubted him.
“He’s a great pass protector, a great route runner,” Gruden said of Thompson before this season began.
“He has great value in the National Football League.”
The confidence has been contagious.
“Jay told me from the jump, ‘You’re my guy,’” Thompson said. “To have a coach who believes in you, and has no doubt about your game and your skill set, brings an added confidence. You just feel like you can conquer whatever you want to do.”
Learn more about the Redskins’ 2017-2018 season at www.redskins.com.