Unit by unit: Defensive backs

Packers need to build depth in secondary, move Carroll to safety

Starters -LCB Ahmad Carroll, SS Mark Roman, FS Nick Collins, RCB Al Harris
Backups - CB Mike Hawkins, S Marviel Underwood, CB Patrick Dendy, CB Jerron Wishom, CB Therrian Fontenot, S Todd Franz, CB Jason Horton, S Jeremy Thornburg

While the Packers defensive line struggled in 2005, Green Bay's secondary improved significantly. The Packers gave up an average of only 167.5 yards through the air against opponents. The Packers' secondary was bolstered by suffocating cornerback Al Harris and rookie safety Nick Collins. Harris often covered the offense's top receiver, which was enough to convince opponents to test the Packers' weak run defense.

Cornerback Ahmad Carroll again had problems with holding and pass interference penalties in his second year as a starter. Although he got better as the season progressed in avoiding the officials' wrath for unnecessary grabbing, Carroll still led the defense with nine penalties and was a liability from time to time in downfield coverage. He would better serve the Packers as a safety in the future, something the new Packers coaching staff must consider this off-season.

Mike Hawkins, a raw prospect on whom Thompson gambled a fifth-round draft pick last year, has the traits to overtake Carroll and be a starter, but he was riddled by an assortment of injuries that sidelined him five games. Durability will be an issue with Hawkins, who has above-average speed but is thin on football experience.

Look for the Packers to pursue a cornerback in the upcoming NFL draft to bolster depth at the cornerback position. Besides drafting a player, the Packers also would benefit by signing a cornerback with experience when free agency begins. Joey Thomas played himself off the team by midseason, and Jason Horton was dogged by a shoulder injury for most of the season and wound up having season-ending surgery, but not before getting beaten badly on a long pass that set up a game-winning field goal by Minnesota at Lambeau Field.

Collins, an unheralded second-round draft pick out of Division I-AA Bethune-Cookman, had a solid debut season as the replacement for All-Pro Darren Sharper, who was cut in the off-season. Collins, a former cornerback, played both fast and tenacious, racking up 96 tackles. However, he dropped a couple of would-be interceptions and was second on the team with 19 missed tackles.

Mark Roman's hold on the other starting safety spot is tenuous at best. He might be pushed by Carroll, if he is moved to that position this off-season. While Roman tied for second on the team with a career-high 105 tackles, he was lost in one-on-one coverage and was lax on making a stop with 12 missed tackles.

The supposedly hard-hitting Marviel Underwood, a fourth-round draftee, offered little in extended playing time in the dime defense for most of the season.

Journeyman Todd Franz will be an unrestricted free agent. Jeremy Thornburg, a demon on special teams after being claimed off waivers from San Francisco at midseason, has medical issues (shoulder, sports hernia) that cloud his playing future.

Todd Korth is managing editor of PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at packrepted@aol.com.

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