Banged-Up Pack secondary in for challenge

Seeing as how their secondary will be confronted with its biggest challenge of the season thus far, the Packers aren't moaning about having a longer week of practice that comes with playing a game on Monday night.

Green Bay's frustrating quest to notch its first victory may hinge on whether it has a full complement of defensive backs to thwart Carolina's Steve Smith, who has an NFL-high-tying 23 receptions for 342 yards and a co-league-best four touchdowns. As of Thursday, that's not a certainty.

Ahmad Carroll, who had reclaimed the starting job at left cornerback with a solid performance Sunday, missed practice for the second straight day. Carroll suffered a bruised left knee in the 17-16 loss to Tampa Bay and is questionable for Monday's game.

Although Carroll said he plans to get back on the field in some capacity Friday, he acknowledged that he won't be cleared for action until swelling in the knee subsides.

"It doesn't hurt that bad. It just hurts when I do certain things. When I try to go side to side, it kind of hurts," Carroll said Thursday. "Good thing we have a Monday night game; we get an extra day. But I expect to be playing on Monday night ... hopefully."

If the knee continues to plague Carroll into the weekend, Joey Thomas will get the start. Thomas had his own medical issues last week in the wake of a mild concussion suffered in the Week 2 loss to Cleveland. Thomas started in place of a demoted Carroll in that game and was able to finish it after taking a blow to the head while making a tackle in the first quarter.

Thomas, though, experienced recurring headaches and was sensitive to bright lights throughout the subsequent week. He didn't play Sunday, which enabled Carroll to jump back ahead in the seesaw competition at the spot opposite Al Harris.

Carroll responded with a fourth-quarter interception that put the Packers in position to overtake Tampa Bay, to no avail. Last year's first-round draft pick also wasn't penalized for the second straight game, after he committed four infractions in the season opener and took a back seat to Thomas on the depth chart.

"Sometimes, it's a wake-up call," defensive coordinator Jim Bates said of how Carroll has rebounded since the one-game demotion.

Bates, though, is growing tired of what has become a weekly predicament of not knowing who will be available at cornerback. Rookie Mike Hawkins, who worked as the nickel back with Thomas out Sunday, didn't practice Thursday because of a groin injury and is probable for Monday's game.

"Right now, it's hard to get some stability," Bates said. "The injury situation is really keeping it in turmoil to get the continuity we're looking for."

Unlike last year's season opener at Carolina, when Harris reckoned he covered Smith for all but "maybe two plays," the scheme employed by Bates in his first season with the team keeps the cornerbacks on their designated sides of the field. Harris held Smith to six catches for 60 yards before the Panthers standout suffered a season-ending broken leg late in the game.

This time, Harris doesn't anticipate seeing the ever-moving Smith lined up on his side more than 50 percent of the time.

Since Carroll possesses more quickness and is better suited for operating from the outside than Thomas, who's been relegated to the slot on passing downs, the Packers would be better served if all that's been ailing them clears up by Monday.

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