Packers host McKenzie suitors

It takes two to tango, and the Green Bay Packers' potential dance partner will visit Lambeau Field on Saturday night.

Mike McKenzie is holding firm to his threat of never again playing for the Packers. The New Orleans Saints, meanwhile, may have the worst starting cornerback duo of any playoff hopeful in the league. The Saints, in fact, are one of the teams most interested in trading for McKenzie, but have been unwilling to part with the first-round pick the Packers desire.

The Saints' starting cornerbacks are Ashley Ambrose and Fred Thomas, who are a combined 63 years old and weren't all that great in their primes. Last week they signed Derek Ross off waivers. Ross is talented but wore out his welcome in Dallas and Atlanta within eight months. When Ross missed his flight to New Orleans, the Saints quickly severed their ties.

New Orleans is young and deep up front, however. Will Smith, Johnathan Sullivan and Charles Grant were the Saints' first-round picks in 2004, 2003 and 2002, respectively. Darren Howard was a second-rounder in 2002. Kenny Smith, who the Saints reportedly offered to the Packers with a third-round pick for McKenzie, was taken in the third round in 2001. Smith was placed on injured reserve this week, however.

The Saints' strength, however, wouldn't necessarily help facilitate a trade because the Packers are comfortable with their starting front four and intrigued by some of the younger defensive linemen such as James Lee and Cullen Jenkins.

While the Packers publicly are at least somewhat confident McKenzie will back down and report at some point, Saturday's preseason game will be another opportunity for someone to emerge to fill his starting spot.

Rookie cornerback Ahmad Carroll, the Packers' first-round pick, likely will miss the game due to a strained hamstring. In his place, however, will be the Packers' third-round pick, cornerback Joey Thomas. When not sidelined by a bruised knee, Thomas has been impressive throughout training camp. He's made more plays on the ball than just about anyone else in the secondary. The negative attitude that hounded him coming out of college has been nowhere to be found in Green Bay.

While the rookies have been the talk, veteran Michael Hawthorne remains the starter. Hawthorne, however, struggled mightily against Seattle and needs to improve.

A few other players under the preseason microscope:

1. Mark Roman. The safety was the Packers' major off-season acquisition. He has been splitting the starter's duties with holdover Marques Anderson, but at some point Sherman will have to make a decision so the chosen one can develop chemistry with fellow starting safety Darren Sharper and the rest of the secondary. Roman has had a strong camp, and a big-time performance on Saturday could net him the starting gig.

2. Young defensive linemen Jenkins, Lee and Kenny Peterson. In a dismal first preseason game, those young backups were arguably the Packers' best players. Sherman has called Peterson one of the standouts of training camp. Lee and Jenkins spent so much time in the Seahawks' offensive backfield that they should have just joined them in the huddle. The Saints' second-team offensive linemen, however, will be aware of this triumvirate. Besides, anybody can have one good game, but consecutive good games may be the start of a trend. Depth up front was a weakness for last year's team. That has to change.

3. Craig Nall. The third-year quarterback has missed the majority of training camp with a strained hamstring. Nall's Packers career may be on the line, especially if newcomer Tim Couch suddenly gets more comfortable.

4. Couch. Assuming he plays, Couch needs a better performance simply to build some confidence. He no longer is a sure bet to make the final roster.

5. B.J. Sander. The rookie punter has kicked 13 balls in front of the Lambeau Field faithful, and only one was worthy of his third-round status. If Sander can't punt effectively when it's 60 degrees in August, how is he going to succeed when it's 10 degrees in December?

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