Planning how the outside linebackers core will look this year has become quite the task for Ted Thompson. Imagine Thompson, at the wheel of a minivan, trying to cram Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Julius Peppers, Mike Neal, Jayrone Elliott, and Adrian Hubbard into the vehicle for a roadtrip to the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, there might not be room for Andy Mulumba to ride along.

But don’t hold your breath. Mulumba has the talent to challenge a majority of those linebackers.

Mulumba is returning this season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee in the second game of the season against the New York Jets. Last season, he was expected to team up with Jarrett Bush to be the top two special teams players on the team. The previous season Mulumba recorded 30 total tackles and a sack.

In training camp, Mulumba has been impressive enough to play snaps on the first team defense. He’s also beating the Packers offensive linemen on a regular basis. We’ll have to pay close attention on Thursday evening to see how the third year pro competes against the New England Patriots offense.

Green Bay is in need of a solid outside linebacker to pair next to Peppers. In turn, Clay Matthews can focus entirely on internal pressure as an A-gap blitzer. Perry and Neal are both entering contract years and if Mulumba shows he can be that consistent linebacker, it’ll be his position for the taking. Green Bay already seems to be transitioning to a Perry-less defense after they declined to pick up the fifth year option of his rookie contract.

Mulumba has one advantage on many of the linebackers and that’s his size. On special teams, Mulumba’s 6-foot-3, 260-pound frame running downfield on punt returns is comparable to watching a wrecking ball roll down the field at the returner. If Mulumba doesn’t get a spot playing many downs as a linebacker, we can be sure we’ll still see his impact on special teams.

One thing is for sure. Dom Capers isn’t ready for anyone to see his starting lineup for the defense. So it’s impossible to get a gauge for where Clay Matthews is lining up and how that’s going to affect the rest of the depth chart.

We shouldn’t see much of the first team defense on Thursday, which means we’ll get to see plenty of Mulumba and his main competition for a roster spot. It’ll be interesting to see just how much Mulumba has improved since his rookie season.