Commentary: Sander under microscope

You can count on plenty of words being written about a certain third-round pick after Monday night's preseason game against Seattle.<p>

But here's all you'll need to know about how B.J. Sander faired in his preseason debut, and it won't take any words at all. If you hear a loud sigh of relief coming from the Lambeau Field faithful, you'll know all is good. If you hear a loud groan, you'll know the Packers better be shopping for a new punter, pronto.

"In order for us to feel good about everything, it's important for him to have a strong showing," special-teams coordinator John Bonamego said.

Sander admittedly didn't handle the pressure of the Family Night Scrimmage too well. He tried too hard to impress the 60,000 in attendance and came up with three punts worthy of the 10-year-old division of a Punt, Pass and Kick contest.

Now Sander will be punting in front of 70,000 fans. He's had all week to replay again and again his horrendous debut.

How he responds will speak volumes about who will be the Packers' punter come the Sept. 13 regular-season opener at Carolina.

If Sander can bounce back from his scrimmage debacle, then the Packers likely can rest easy. Sure, it's only a preseason game, but there's not much that can compare to the pressure he's under now.

First off, Packers coach/general manager went out on a limb and traded his fourth- and fifth-round draft choices to land Sander in the third round. Picking a punter in the third round is a lot like having the run of a buffet and grabbing toast instead of the smoked salmon or cheesecake.

The name Brett Conway — another third-round pick — was being uttered even before Sander averaged 27 yards on his three scrimmage punts. I was at Conway's scrimmage debut as a fan. His first kick was an extra point, and it barely cleared the upright. That was practically the highlight of his Packers career. He overworked his leg trying to work out the kinks, spent the season on injured reserve, lost his job to Ryan Longwell and never played a regular-season game for the Packers.

If Sander on Monday can overcome all of that — if he can prove to the fans and his teammates that he was worth a third-round pick, if he can make people forget Conway, and most importantly if he put the scrimmage behind him — then Sander's career will be off and running.

But if Sander's attempt at a pooch punt goes 19 yards or his punt from his own end zone travels 36 yards, then the search for a new punter had better start ASAP. Because if Sander can't handle the pressure of a preseason game, how is he going to be able to handle the pressure of needing to punt the opponent inside its 10-yard line when there's two minutes to go in the NFC championship game?


1. Holdover Marques Anderson gets the starting nod at strong safety, with free-agent signing Mark Roman coming off the bench. That situation will flip-flop for Saturday's game against New Orleans.

Neither player has taken control of the position, with means Anderson — who has been entrenched in the system for a couple seasons — may have the upper hand. Knowledge of the system and sure tackling will be the keys to which player gets the starting nod, since the playmaking Darren Sharper will be used more often at the line of scrimmage if possible.

2. First-round pick Ahmad Carroll will make his debut against an outstanding Seahawks receiving corps. Mike McKenzie's starting job remains open, with veteran Michael Hawthorne the front-runner and the banged up third-round pick Joey Thomas having an outstanding camp. Thomas' frequent stints on the sideline, however, give Carroll the upper hand to at least be the third corner. Thomas will miss the scrimmage with a bruised knee.

3. Carl Ford came into camp with a great chance to be the No. 4 receiver, but he seemingly has fallen well behind punt returner Antonio Chatman for that role. The time is now for Ford, a training camp star last year before injuring his knee, or else he'll be the irrelevant fifth receiver — or worse.

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