Carroll, Thomas key to defense

The Green Bay Packers concluded their final off-season minicamp Thursday, meaning the next time they take to the practice field it will be in preparation for the 2005-06 season.

With that in mind, and knowing the state of the defense – how it finished a season ago – training camp marks the time when second-year cornerbacks Ahmad Carroll and Joey Thomas must show coach Mike Sherman and defensive coordinator Jim Bates they are both ready to be quality players.

Last season was miserable for the-then rookies. They reportedly had a skirmish with each other, and on the field they both struggled doing the simplest of things.

But that was then, this is now. Both have endured a rookie campaign and both have an off-season of workouts underneath them. It's time for both to step up and make the battle for the No. 2 cornerback spot opposite starter Al Harris one to behold.

Bates has said all off-season how impressed he is with the defense and the talent. He's never wavered off that comment, and if that's to hold true Carroll and Thomas have to make noticeable improvements.

According to cornerbacks coach Lionel Washington, they have.

"Ahmad's gotten better, and Joey is continuing to get better each day," Washington said as the final minicamp concluded. "Those guys are competing hard."

Off-seasons, you will find, are rarely loaded with negativity about a player – unless he's named Cletidus Hunt or Javon Walker. Coaching staffs always gloat about any player you talk about.

Truth is, though, these comments mean nothing. I've been around the Packers long enough to see players who received a boatload of compliments in the off-season to not make it past the first cut in training camp.

Carroll and Walker won't be first-cut victims, or even cut at all. The Packers have spent too much on them. However, for the Packers' defense to improve, their play at cornerback has to improve. Harris is solid, but not a No.1 caliber cover corner like a Champ Bailey, or even a Mike McKenzie (gulp!).

Because of that, it's imperative Carroll and Thomas make strides, because they have talent - at least the Packers think that by drafting them in the first and third rounds, respectively. Although the Packers' defensive line needs improvement, it can be argued marked improvement in the secondary will go a long way in winning another NFC North title.

The good thing for Carroll and Thomas is Randy Moss isn't in the division anymore.

The bad thing is, teams have last year's video on their play. It wasn't good, so they'll be tested. They need to show last year's struggles were that of a rookie, because if they don't this secondary will be in dire straits.

Hang onto this next statement Packers fans: The success of the Packers' defense will largely be determined on how well Carroll and Thomas play. Make you feel a little jumpy?

Maybe, but the Packers picked them to be impact players. This season is their time.

Jamal wasn't the only one
In the 2001 draft the Packers selected defensive end Jamal Reynolds, who was Ron Wolf's final No. 1 pick before he retired as general manager. What a way to go out. Reynolds was awful in three seasons before the Packers waived him last year.

Many were disappointed with Reynolds, the 10th pick in 2001, but the Packers weren't alone in screwing up. Here are six other players selected in the first round that year, who instead of being impact players already have been waived by their original team:

- Gerard Warren, DT, Browns, No. 3. He was so good he tempted Wolf to think about doing anything to draft him. He's now with Denver.
- David Terrell, WR, Bears, No. 8. Like all Michigan wide receivers (also see Desmond Howard and Amani Toomer), once they hit the NFL, down they go down. Terrell is in New England.
- Koren Robinson, WR, Seattle, No. 9. He was just waived after having problems with drugs and his attitude. Not picked up yet.
- Freddie Mitchell, WR, Philadelphia, No. 25. "Fred-Ex" has the mouth, but no hands and no talent, which led to no production. Not picked up yet.

- Jamar Fletcher, CB, Miami, No. 26. A great corner in college, he's too small to make an impact first-rounders are expected to make. He was traded to San Diego.
The moral of the story: the only guarantee first-round picks have is a nice contract. Other than that, they need to work to make it big. These players didn't do enough of that.

One last thought
As of Friday, it was 90 days before the start of the NFL season. Meaning, 89 more days before Bears fans can start complaining about their season – again.

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