Carroll has been the subject of much conversation after the debacle that was the Packers' season opener last Sunday in Detroit. The second-year cornerback certainly played a part in the 17-3 loss when officials flagged him for four defensive penalties, continuing a disturbing trend that began during his rookie season of a year ago. He was the most penalized player on the team with 16 penalties (in 14 games) while coaches searched for answers to help him improve his technique and eliminate his mistakes.
Just one game into this season, head coach Mike Sherman has benched Carroll, giving the starting cornerback spot to Joey Thomas, who will make his first career start on Sunday against the Browns. Carroll will still see action in the Packers' nickel and dime packages.
To Carroll's credit, at least two of his penalties against the Lions were described as "ticky-tacky" by Sherman after reviewing the game film. Three of the penalties were for illegal use of hands, when Carroll tried to "jam" a receiver at or near the line of scrimmage. On at least one occasion, it looked as though Carroll barely grazed the receiver's facemask.
Sherman, though, really has no choice but to relegate Carroll to a backup role because he is hurting the team and putting the defense in tough situations. Packers' coaches have not given up on Carroll, but seem frustrated that he cannot correct his infractions with practice and may not do so anytime soon.
Carroll, on the other hand, knows he has to change, but will not on at least his approach to playing cornerback.
"I'm a physical corner, and I'm going to go out there and I'm going to get my hands on you no matter what," said Carroll. "I ain't going to be out there worrying about the referee going to throw a flag. You've got big receivers, 6'8", that are physical, and you have quick receivers, that if you don't get your hands on them, they're going to run right past you. So I'm not going to change my game up at all. It wasn't PI's (pass interference) this week, it was hands to the face mask, and that's something little I can go out there and correct."
If Carroll is not going to change the way he plays, he will not regain his starting spot and continue to get penalized. Though he is still young, he appears as though he has not learned how to combine the discipline and skills necessary to be a top cornerback with his tremendous athletic ability. He may never change his ways, and the Packers cannot wait for him to do so. That is why it is not too late, even this season, to consider him at safety.
The upside Carroll has shown in just over a year with the Packers all point to him having qualities that would make for a natural transition to safety. He is aggressive, has good closing ability, has a degree of grittiness, and is good tackler. Though he would be considered smaller for a safety (5'10", 190 pounds), he is as strong as most safeties, which would make up for the inch in height or the 10 pounds that he lacks when compared to the other Packers' safeties. Most importantly, the coverage and contact issues that are giving him problems as a corner would be hidden more as a safety. He would have a better chance there to make more plays and turn them into touchdowns.
Furthermore, the Packers need help at safety, a position they overhauled in the off-season. Three of the four players on their roster at that position are new to the team, so there is still much uncertainty. With a look at safety, Carroll could provide a bright future at the position with rookies Nick Collins and Marviel Underwood.
Cornerbacks coach Lionel Washington said on Wednesday he still believes Carroll can be a good cornerback and that there never has been any discussion of moving the former No. 1 draft pick to safety.
"I think he has to develop more confidence in what he is doing," said Washington. "If he continues to work hard, hopefully that's going to happen for him. Ahmad has the physical attributes you want in a corner – he can run, he's athletic, he can make plays on the ball – but to be consistent at doing that, you have to continue to work hard at it."
Washington was an assistant defensive backs coach with the Packers under Ray Rhodes in 1999 and was a part of the transformation of then No. 1 draft choice Antuan Edwards from cornerback to safety. Before that, the Packers also moved LeRoy Butler and Darren Sharper from cornerback at early stages in each player's career to safety where both blossomed into Pro Bowlers. The reason all three of the above-mentioned players made the switch was because they possessed a physical quality that outweighed their speed and man-to-man coverage skills. Carroll has that physical quality as well – it is just that his speed does not outweigh it. That is a major reason he has always been a cornerback.
Even at such an early time in his career, Carroll has developed a reputation with officials and a weakness that opposing teams can attack should they scout well. Therefore, there must be a change, and moving positions could just be the right fit. At this point, Carroll and the Packers have nothing to lose, except penalties of course.
Editor's note: Matt Tevsh lives in Green Bay and is entering his 10th season covering the Green Bay Packers for Packer Report and PackerReport.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.