Once Carroll fully believes in his capabilities on the football field, he will turn into the cornerback that Coach Mike Sherman envisioned when he selected him with Green Bay's No. 1 draft pick in 2004. At this point, Carroll has yet to reach that plateau because he is still not confident in himself. That's got Sherman and fans pulling their hair out.
"He has to be more consistent as a player," Sherman said. "I think he has the ability to. There are times where he plays very well, and there's other times that he out-thinks himself. I want to see him be more consistent."
A prime example came early in the second quarter against Atlanta. Green Bay's defense was doing an excellent job of shutting down Michael Vick and the Falcons, but Carroll was flagged for a 43-yard pass interference penalty deep in Green Bay territory. The Falcons scored a touchdown two plays later to tie the game.
Carroll, defending against rookie first-round pick Roddy White, needlessly turned and pushed the receiver on the play, drawing the flag. Carroll was in position to deflect, or possibly intercept the pass, but he gave in to the tendencies that plagued him throughout his rookie season and earlier this year.
"When you look at it on film, I'm right there," Carroll said. "It's not like I have to make a drastic change to get better. I know some things I've got to work on."
Like believing in himself. Carroll is one of the fastest players on the team. He's strong, a hard-hitter, tough and cocky. He has a short memory. He's everything you want in a cornerback, one of the more difficult positions to play on defense. But it has yet to sink in because Carroll is not trusting his own abilities, and he can be too cocky at inopportune times.
"My coach asked, ‘Do you realize how fast you are?'" Carroll said. "I said, ‘no.' When I think somebody's got a step on me, you don't think about catching up. You think about not allowing them to catch the ball. A lot of times, if I just turn and look I'll get an interception. That's my goal. Hopefully on Monday, I can do that."
Carroll is tied with cornerback Al Harris for the team lead with two interceptions. As the season has progressed, Carroll has reduced pass interference and holding penalties against him. But just when he makes a great play by causing White to fumble late in the game, which allowed Green Bay to score the game-sealing touchdown, Carroll literally did an about-face and screwed up. As soon as linebacker Nick Barnett scooped up the fumble and headed toward the end zone, Carroll chose to not assist on the play but turned and walked toward the Atlanta sideline, strutting, taunting and acting like a fool, in front of the Falcons. In that case, Carroll allowed his cockiness to nearly cost the team a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Sherman, unaware of Carroll's antics during the game, wasn't happy. The coach pulled Carroll into his office this week and talked to the cornerback for about 20 minutes. "He told me he didn't agree with it," Carroll said, putting it mildly. "He told me he was mad about it. Anytime I rub him the wrong way and get the team mad, which he had a reason to be mad, even though I didn't say anything. I could have gotten a penalty for the team."
Another bump in the road for Carroll that hopefully has been repaired. Carroll apologized to his coach and teammates.
"I think he understands where I'm coming from. Anyway I can punish him, I will for that play. It represents the team, his teammates … he won't do it again. You've got my word, he won't do it again."
Like it or not, Carroll will be the starting cornerback the rest of this season for the Packers. There is nobody worthy of bringing in off the bench, or street, that will do better than Carroll. Like the Packers did with a young Brett Favre early in his career, they will have to endure the Carroll's inconsistencies until he begins believing in himself and matures. The sooner that happens, the better, but it hasn't happened yet.
Todd Korth is managing editor of PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.