Drafting for need

Mike Sherman did what he had to do. Mike McKenzie is unhappy, the NFL is making it tougher for defensive backs to cover receivers, and that dreadful fourth-and-26th play has got to still be gnawing away at the Packers. So, Green Bay's coach and general manager used the first day of the draft to re-inforce his defense.<p>

"If we can't get off the field on third down, we're not going to win, so the more cover guys you can get, pass-rushers you can get, you've got to have them," said Mark Hatley, Green Bay's vice president of football operations. "You've got to get off the field on third down."

The Packers used their first round pick and 25th overall selection on speedy Arkansas' cornerback Ahmad Carroll. The Packers followed by making a few trades and landing Montana State cornerback Joey Thomas, Clemson defensive tackle Donnell Washington and Ohio State punter B.J. Sander in the third round.

All are good, logical picks based on the team's top needs. Sherman, though he wouldn't admit it, had to address the McKenzie situation, by taking Carroll and Thomas. If McKenzie comes to his senses and realizes that he's on a pretty good team and earning a dream paycheck for playing the game of football and returns to Green Bay, it will only strengthen the secondary. If the Packers trade McKenzie away, they have two promising prospects to fill one of the starting spots.

"There is such an attrition rate with your defensive backs throughout the course of the season. I don't know if you can ever bypass a good corner," Sherman said.

Punter also is a position of need for the Packers. Green Bay lost out on the bidding with Tampa Bay for Josh Bidwell this off-season. That could come back to haunt the Packers. While Sander had a Ray Guy Award-winning season and last year, he only has that one season of solid experience in college. That fact makes the pick risky, but the Packers were aggressive and made sure they got the best-rated punter in the draft by trading up to obtain him.

Of course, punting in the pros is much different than booting the ball in college, so the Packers can only cross their fingers and hope for the best from Sander. But Green Bay had no other choice. There are no worthy veteran punters on the free agent market, and Travis Dorsch was the only punter on their roster entering the draft. Dorsch was out of football last year.

"It's more risky not to have (Sander) than it is to go get him," Sherman said. "We really fell in love with him as his workout. It was windy and a very cold day. He's a left-footed punter that gets great hang time. Obviously, being left-footed, puts a different spin on the ball. I think he can be a dangerous punter at Lambeau Field. He punted in front of over 100,000 (fans) at Ohio State, so he's used to that part of it."

Washington is a project, but owns all the physical attributes that could allow him to be a great defensive lineman. The Packers also feel that he has an ability to play ‘Power' end, which is up for grabs because the team is expected to release veteran Joe Johnson after June 1.

"He's a raw player. He has 36-inch arms. He's 323 pounds. He has great heighth stature," Sherman said. "He ran a 4.8-plus (40 yard dash) at the Combine. There are not many guys that big that can be that fast. Is he the finished product, no. That's why he's in the third round, not the second round for us. I believe we can coach him up and get him on the field as soon as possible."

Between Carroll and Thomas, Washington and Sander, the Packers directly addressed the way last season ended in Philadelphia. You remember, Bidwell's inability to drop the ball inside the 20, then a few plays later, the defense giving up a first down on fourth-and-26 late in the game.

"You're going to take players based on a lot of reasons," Sherman said, referring to the Eagles playoff game. "I can't say that particularly played a part. That certainly hasn't been a part of my thinking. I've tried to wipe that out of my mind. I wouldn't say it was because of that, but certainly in some indirect way it may have contributed at some point. I don't think it directly did."

By selecting Carroll, the Packers also addressed the league's intention to crack down on contact between receivers and defensive backs beyond five yards of the line of scrimmage. Carroll is a physical corner who is used to playing bump-and-run coverage. He has the catchup speed (4.34 40 yard dash time) to break up passes to receivers who get away from him, like Freddie Mitchell pulling away from Bhawoh Jue.

The Packers have all the talent this season to get back to divisional playoffs and advance to the NFC Championship Game. They had a golden opportunity to do that last year, but the defense let the team down. With or without McKenzie, Carroll and Thomas give the Packers a fighting chance to catch a guy like Mitchell in the clutch.

Sherman took the logical steps to keep the Packers in the hunt for a NFC title this season by addressing defense on Day 1 of the NFL draft. The coach and GM no doubt will continue to plug other needs on Day 2 – tight end, guard, and quarterback. Those selections will be for players who have the potential to contribute as reserves this season and possibly start in the future.

"I felt it was a good first day," Sherman said. "I felt going into the draft, I felt we needed to support our secondary, we did that. I wanted to get a big man that could be a swing power and 3-technique. There's tremendous potential there. If we can coach him, we can turn this kid into a pretty good player, I think.

"I believe you have to get bigger inside to stop the run game that (other teams) are doing more of now."

Note: Todd Korth is managing editor of Packer Report and packerreport.com. E-mail him at packrepted@aol.com.

Packer Report Top Stories