Carroll, Thomas emerge

Ahmad Carroll and Joey Thomas struggled this season but both are receiving increased playing time of late, and for good reasons.<p>

Carroll, who has been starting since the week six contest in Detroit, had what was easily the game of his young career against the St. Louis Rams on Monday. The rookie, nicknamed "Batman" after his favorite superhero, had his first career interception and his first career touchdown Monday night. While Carroll still makes mistakes, he seems to have taken his game to a new level and is finally holding his own as an NFL cornerback.

The Packers have been waiting for Carroll to emerge as a solid starter ever since he was drafted in April. When Mike McKenzie announced he did not want to return to Green Bay, Carroll was expected to battle for a starting job opposite Al Harris. Unfortunately, injuries slowed the rookie's progress during training camp and Carroll simply wasn't ready to start in week one against Carolina.

Carroll struggled early in the season and has often been picked on by opposing offenses who tend to throw a lot of passes his way. He was often fooled by double moves. While Carroll has blinding speed and a lot of talent, most scouts felt he was very raw and had a lot to learn about defensive technique before he could become a reliable NFL corner.

Slowly but surely, the 5'10" 185 pound rookie out of Arkansas has learned the nuances of the pro game. He still makes mistakes but they seem to be coming less frequently. And best of all, Carroll has shown the ability to bounce back. Against the Rams, for example, Carroll was called for defensive holding which gave St. Louis a critical first down to keep a drive alive deep in Packers territory. The next play, he made his first NFL interception in the end zone, picking off a pass intended for Isaac Bruce and ending the St. Louis threat.

Head Coach Mike Sherman has noticed the forgetfulness of his new cornerback. "This kid has no recall," Sherman said of Carroll. "He doesn't get down on himself if he has a bad play. He comes back on the very next play and makes a significant play in the ballgame. Those takeaways were huge."

After the game, Carroll admitted that you need a short memory to survive as a cornerback in the NFL. "You've got to forget a bad play and forget about a good play. Even after the interception they kept coming at me. I just take them one game at a time and don't believe the hype. I keep watching film. I feel pretty good."

Carroll also scored the Packers first touchdown of the game when he scooped up a Rams fumble and returned it for a touchdown. Quarterback Brett Favre felt that was the key play of the game. "(That was) probably one of the bigger plays, if not the biggest plays of the night - it set the tone for the rest of the game," said Favre. "We go three and out, they get the ball, we make a big play on defense with the two rookies and all of a sudden we're up seven points and we never looked back."

Defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila felt that this game could go a long way toward helping Carroll's confidence. "Ahmad's a young guy and him doing it (making big plays) helps him with his career. You know he can do it. Confidence comes from past success. It's good that he have some success at this early stage of his career—that will help him down the road."

All-Pro safety Darren Sharper, one of the Packers leaders on defense, was also was impressed by Carroll's growth in recent weeks. "He's playing hard and well right now. He's making plays for us and he's also growing and getting better. He's going to be counted on a lot this year and they're going after him. He's stepping up and facing that challenge pretty well."

How well Carroll faces that challenge in the coming weeks may go a long way toward determining the Packers chances to be true contenders in 2004. If "Batman" can become a solid shutdown corner, he and Al Harris can help shut down opposing receivers for years to come. Carroll isn't there yet, but on Monday night in front of a national television audience, he finally made Packers fans take notice of what he can do.


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