Camp spotlight: Ahmad Carroll

"Batman" made an appearance at the second Packers' minicamp.

No, not Ahman Green. Ahmad Carroll.

Carroll, the Packers' first-round draft choice in April who shares Green's "Batman" nickname, was by most accounts a disappointment in the postdraft minicamp. He bounced back in the June series of practices, however, and recaptured the cornerback role in the Packers' dime (six defensive backs) defense. In other words, the player the Packers envisioned on draft day made his first appearance.

The key, Carroll said, was stopping trying to live up to his first-round billing on every snap.

"I was just going out there and trying to make a play happen and make interceptions, and you can't do that at this level," Carroll said. "You've got to be able to read receivers and try to read it before it happens."

He added, "It's just a matter of being patient. Just making everything come to me instead of going out there and trying to make something happen."

Carroll's role for this season is dependent largely on the future of standout cornerback Mike McKenzie. If McKenzie returns and plays up to his ability, Carroll likely won't see much playing time and will be able to grow into the job. If McKenzie lives up to his promise of never playing another down with the Packers, then Carroll could get thrown to the wolves early during this rookie season.

"I'll be ready to start if they need me to start," Carroll said. "I'll be ready to play anything they ask me to play. Right now, I'm just doing what I have to do to make sure I'm ready, and when the year starts, I'll be good to go."

That wasn't the case in the postdraft camp. Carroll, who stands about a half-inch shy of 5-feet-10, appeared in over his head. He was schooled routinely by the Packers' receivers. A month later, however, Carroll flashed some of the skills that made him a first-round choice.

"The biggest thing is just being more patient and letting the game come to me," Carroll said. "Because I've got the talent. I've just got to go out there and play. It's just football, and I've been doing it my whole life. I just do it for a living now."

Carroll indeed has the talent. While his lack of height immediately triggers not-so-fond memories of former first-round pick Terrell Buckley, Carroll offsets that with a big-time 41-inch vertical leap. He may not be 6-foot-1 like fellow rookie Joey Thomas, but with his jumping skills, he plays like a 6-footer. If he gets beaten, the two-time collegiate All-American in track at Arkansas has the speed to recover. And with 195 pounds on his frame, Carroll has the strength that's vital for the Packers' bump-and-run defensive scheme.

Those physical tools intrigued the Packers enough to make them pounce on Carroll while other more highly touted corners remained available. No doubt the June minicamp extinguished any doubts that may have been brewing among the Packers' coaches and personnel staff after what they saw in the spring.

"I think he has drastically improved from the first time he got in here," John Dorsey, the team's director of college scouting, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "He's starting to get it. I, for sure, see the speed. There's no doubt about that. I see a certain amount of swagger and aggressiveness."

For rookies, the speed often emerges as they become more comfortable with the scheme. That was the case for Carroll, who thought too much and reacted too little in the first minicamp. In June, Carroll showed the instinctiveness that hopefully shows he is a football player, not a track athlete trying to play football.

"Great, great ability," wide receiver Javon Walker said when asked about Carroll and Thomas. "Them guys have got it. They've got big-time speed. Me going against them, not because they're rookies but because of their athletic ability, it lets me know where I stand on my athletic ability as far as competing with them as far as running with them and as far as running routes. The minute they learn what they've got to do on defense, they are going to be outstanding corners."

Assuming training camp starts the way the minicamps ended, Carroll will line up with the No. 1 dime defense — he supplanted Thomas for that role during the June camp — and be behind Michael Hawthorne at McKenzie's left cornerback position in the base defense. If Hawthorne lines up with Al Harris in Week 1, the Packers will have a pair of physical cornerbacks. They also will have a pair of slow cornerbacks. That could give Carroll an opening into the starting lineup at some point during his rookie season.

But for that to happen, Carroll must take another giant leap once training camp begins in August.

"Joey was better the first minicamp, but Ahmad's been better this one," defensive backs coach Kurt Schottenheimer said. "Technique-wise, he's so much further ahead. Ability-wise, I love 'em both. And they have so much skill. But Ahmad's probably a little bit ahead."

Carroll plans on staying ahead. Instead of going home after the final minicamp, Carroll stayed behind to continue his crash course at playing cornerback.

"When camp starts, I'll be ready," Carroll said. "Right now, it's pretty much being patient out there and listening to my coaches. And if I just go out there, be patient, have fun and play and just do what my coaches tell me to do, I'll be ready to start."

Editor's Note: This is the first of a four-part series profiling key players battling for spots in the secondary, the position that is the Packers' biggest question mark. This series includes stories on Joey Thomas, Mark Roman and Marques Anderson.

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