As the year went on, however, Anderson's play waned. He started playing, in fact, like a rookie. He botched assignments and butchered too many tackling attempts by lazily grabbing with an arm or trying for a highlight-reel hit. A final memory of his rookie season is watching him flail to the turf in a futile attempt to lasso Falcons quarterback Michael Vick in the playoff debacle.
Still, though, Anderson's rookie season was more success than failure. Instead of building on it in 2003, though, Anderson admits he wasn't professional enough to deal with his early success.
"Last year I was really worried about my battle with Antuan," Anderson said of his training-camp showdown with Antuan Edwards. "And I think I got too much worried about that situation rather than worrying about me being better and me having the training camp that I needed to have because I was worried about other things.
"What I've figured out this year is the more I prepare myself and the better I get, not too many people can compete with me. I just need to get better, and if I get better our defense gets better, our secondary gets better and our team gets better. So that's what I'm worried about."
He better take that strategy into training camp or else he'll be watching from the bench again. Last year, Anderson couldn't beat out the departed Edwards. This year, Anderson will battle Mark Roman for the starting job. Edwards, a former first-round draft choice, was a major disappointment during his five seasons in Green Bay. Roman, on the other hand, arrives as an established NFL starter.
To that end, Anderson talks as if he's Mr. Goodwrench. Anderson showed up for the off-season minicamps looking like Jeff Gordon's Nextel Cup racecar. Anderson says he played at 213 pounds last year but checked in at 209 for the June minicamp. Somehow, Anderson lost four pounds while gaining a ton of muscle. The credit, Anderson said, is a healthy diet.
"It's just like a mechanic, the more you work on cars," Anderson said. "First time, you might not know where everything goes, but if you keep on doing it, you'll know exactly where everything is supposed to go. You know just from the sound of the car engine how messed up you can be. With the maturity level I have, I know my body. I know what I can eat, what I can't eat. ‘If I eat this, how much weight am I going to gain?' I feel like my nutrition is better. I've been working on my speed, working on my quickness."
During the June minicamp, Anderson and Roman shared time at No. 1 safety opposite Darren Sharper. Yes, the pads were off, but Anderson looked explosive and confident and ready to claim a starting role. Anderson has something else going for him, too: hunger.
"The first year that I came in here, I was riding high. I was (a) rookie of the year (candidate) and I never really had to go through some of the things, some of the growing pains, of coming into the NFL," Anderson said. "Where some people come in and just play special teams, I really didn't have to do that. But you get to the point that (you realize), ‘This is a hard game and everything's just not going to be given to you and everything's not going to be easy just because you are a good player.'
"You have to go out there day in and day out and excel because if you're not getting better, you're getting worse. It's a changing game, and I learned that my second year. I think it might have took something like that last year to be a catalyst to know these are things I need to do, these are things I need to work on."
The attitude is a far cry from the attitude he took into training camp a year ago. While hardly cocky or brash, Anderson admits he didn't take the right frame of mind into last year's off-season. Because of it, he started just seven games but still led the team in missed tackles.
"Sometimes when it comes that easy that fast, you can get kind of complacent," Anderson said. "You start thinking about things that you shouldn't be thinking about. Last year I was playing off instinct without really knowing the X's and O's. I mean, I knew the X's and O's because I worked very hard at that, but not as comfortably as I know them now. I not only know my position, but I know other people's positions, which makes me feel comfortable and makes me more confident in the things that I'm doing, so that when I'm out there on the field I feel comfortable. I feel like I know where the ball is going, and that makes the game a lot easier."
LeRoy Butler, now an assistant coach and the former owner of the position Anderson covets, is impressed by what he saw in the minicamps.
"I see improvement in his football instincts," Butler told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "He's got to understand, ‘It's all on me.' It's up to him to make the play. That's one thing that I really want to help him with because if he can play to a high level, it'll make this defense really roll. Whether people know it or not, this defense rolls through the (strong) safety."
That may be more true today than even when Butler played. New defensive coordinator Bob Slowik vows a more aggressive style, and that likely means Sharper will spend more time blitzing and playing at the line of scrimmage. That, in turn, means Anderson or Roman often will be the defense's last line of defense. It also means that when Sharper's not attacking, the other safety could be in prime position to make a game-changing play.
And if Anderson's making plays then the Packers, well, could be cruising through the season like a finely tuned machine.
Editor's Note. This is the fourth 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 included stories on Ahmad Carroll, Joey Thomas and Marques Roman.