By selecting cornerbacks Ahmad Carroll of Arkansas in the first round and Joey Thomas of Montana State in the third, coach Mike Sherman clearly was preparing for not having recalcitrant cornerback Mike McKenzie.
Defensive lineman Donnell Washington of Clemson was the team's second choice in the third round. Punter B.J. Sander of Ohio State also was picked in the third.
"We got the corner in the first round and were able to get two second-round players on our board in the third round," vice president of football operations Mark Hatley said. "We thought we had a good day."
Hatley insisted the choices had nothing to do with McKenzie, who has demanded to be traded.
"It had to do with what the board said and what we want," Hatley said. "Any time you can get cover guys you have to address that. It just happened that both of them were corners."
The Packers were petrified during the second half of last season that McKenzie or Al Harris would get injured. Nickel back Michael Hawthorne was re-signed last month but the coaches lost confidence in Bhawoh Jue and don't consider Hawthorne as starting timber.
With McKenzie asking out and Harris entering the final year on his contract and lacking speed, Sherman made his move.
Carroll goes against the height standard at cornerback that the Packers have rigidly adhered to since Terrell Buckley's career ended in 1994. He was 5-9 and 180. Never again, vowed general manager Ron Wolf. And he never did.
That standard went crashing down with the selection of Carroll, who is 5-9 1/2 and 195.
"With all things being equal, the taller corner with speed, yeah, you go with the taller corner," Sherman said. "But you have to play games. This is a unique guy. He's strong. He's compact. He has a 10-8 broad jump, 41-inch vertical."
Carroll, who scored 17 on the Wonderlic intelligence test (the NFL average is 20), had just four interceptions in 36 games, including 29 starts.
"This guy is not a guesser like Buckley was," Sherman said. "This guy is disciplined.
"I think the biggest thing about corners is to have the ability to play the ball downfield. We feel he can do that. He leans on people and pushes them to the sideline like we like to do."
Thomas, 6-1 and 195, has 4.44-second speed in the 40-yard dash compared to Carroll's 4.34 clocking. His forte in the Division I-AA ranks was getting in the face of wide receivers.
"The hardest thing was level of competition," Hatley said. "You didn't see him against a lot of quality receivers. Where he really separated himself was down at the Senior Bowl. We felt like he had a lot of special qualities."
Some teams were completely put off by Thomas' know-it-all personality but not the Packers. He was described as "mouthy" and "full of himself" but "not disrespectful" by one NFL scout.
The first time that Thomas took the Wonderlic test was last April and he scored 10. He improved to 19 at the combine.
Washington, 6-5 1/2 and 323 pounds, scored 8 on the Wonderlic, one of the lowest scores of any player in the draft. Scouts said it was his low level of intelligence that caused him to make precious few plays during his two-year career as a starter.
Like Carroll, he entered the draft a year early.
But when Washington remained available early in the third round, they traded up 14 spots with Jacksonville and took him with the 72nd pick.
"We felt like he was the best big man left on the board," Hatley said. "He also was the highest-rated player left on the board for us. It was a pretty easy decision."
Washington is of similar size to James Lee (6-5, 325), the defensive tackle the Packers traded up to take in Round 5 last year. Lee was a first-year bust, but Hatley said Washington had better potential.
"He's very talented," Hatley said. "Covers a lot of ground. You don't see exactly what type of athlete he is on tape. When you saw him work at the combine, he's a special big man.
"We went down there and spent a lot of time with this kid. We think he has a big upside. He's a giant of a man with 36-inch arms. His arm length is hard to find."
The Packers plan to start Washington out at three-technique tackle behind Cletidus Hunt and Kenny Peterson, but Hatley thinks he is agile enough to play left end, where Aaron Kampman and Chukie Nwokorie hold sway.
The Packers then traded the fourth-round pick (102) they obtained from the Jaguars earlier in the day and a fifth-round pick (153) to Miami for the third-round pick (87) they used for Sander.
Sander, 6-3 1/2 and 219, will be the heavy favorite to win the job vacated when Josh Bidwell was let go in unrestricted free agency. Travis Dorsch, who flopped as a fourth-round pick in 2002 with Cincinnati, remains a possibility.
"If he performs to the level he's capable of he should be able to do that," special teams coach John Bonamego said.
Sander, who scored 23 on the Wonderlic, held the Buckeyes' job in 2000 but was beaten out the next two seasons. He had a 41-yard net in ‘03.
"He doesn't need a whole lot of technique work," Bonamego said. "He's very fundamentally sound and has very good leg strength. He can fill a need for a number of years. Time will tell."
Sander became the highest drafted punter since the New York Giants took Brad Maynard in the third round in 1997. No punter had been taken in the first day in the last six drafts.
"He's got a good drop," Bonamego said. "He holds the ball low, which is particularly advantageous in a windy climate. He's very consistent with his drop.
"He's got a powerful swing. He did a very good job punting going in and directionally. He's pretty good all the way around."
Bidwell was a fourth-round pick in 1999. The last time the Packers drafted a punter as high as the third round was 1981 when Michigan State's Ray Stachowicz arrived in Round 3. He turned out to be a bust.
After taking Carroll at No. 25, the Packers traded their second-round pick (55) to Jacksonville in exchange for a third-round pick (70) and a fourth-round pick (102).
"We ended up probably getting the same player we would have taken at 55 that we got at 70," Hatley said. "We were fortunate that way. Then we moved up because we thought Donnell was special."
Sherman expects Carroll to walk in as the No. 3 cornerback and nickel back and also make a major contribution on special teams.
"This is my guy," Sherman said of Carroll, who didn't make a pre-draft visit to Green Bay. "He fights you. He will give some plays up to bigger guys but I don't think they're going to beat him deep."
Is Carroll, who won't turn 21 until August, capable of starting on opening day if McKenzie is dealt?
"I think he can go in and play cover corner in the slot right now for us," Sherman said. "I'm going to get the first-round pick on the field some way, somehow."
BEST PICK: CB Ahmad Carroll lacks size. He's a junior. He missed spring practice each year because of participation on the track team. What Carroll has is blazing speed and three years of experience in a pure press system. The Packers intend to bump even more under new defensive coordinator Bob Slowik than they did under Ed Donatell.
COULD SURPRISE: DT Corey Williams, sixth round, Arkansas State — Drafted three rounds after Donnell Washington and won't have the big money in his pocket and the pressure of being a first-day pick. Don't be surprised if he has more impact. Stout inside and moves well laterally. Not afraid to work hard. Comes from a small school and has a lot to prove.
A closer look at the Packers' picks:
Round 1/25 — Ahmad Carroll, CB, 5-9 1/2, 195, Arkansas
The Packers had Carroll rated as the No. 2 corner in the draft behind only DeAngelo Hall. He enters as the No. 3 cornerback behind Mike McKenzie and Al Harris. However, with McKenzie demanding out, Carroll might be asked to start sooner than later. Carroll goes against the size mold that former GM Ron Wolf instituted after the disaster with Terrell Buckley. But he has 41-inch vertical jump and good strength.
Round 3/70 — Joey Thomas, CB, 6-1, 195, Montana State
Thomas has the perfect size for the position and played in a press man system in Division I-AA. Thomas is a know-it-all who has trouble taking coaching. If he matures, he could become an NFL starter. Thomas also must become much more physical in run support.
Round 3/72 — Donnell Washington, DT, 6-5 1/2, 323, Clemson
Washington is a classic boom or bust choice. He is a huge man with gigantic wingspan and 5.0 speed, tremendous for his size. But he also is slow mentally and it has been reflected in his play. He produced very little in the ACC before coming out a year early. He will line up at three-technique behind Cletidus Hunt and Kenny Peterson but also could double as a left end behind Aaron Kampman and Chukie Nwokorie.
Round 3/87 — B.J. Sander, P, 6-3 1/2, 219, Ohio State
Sander punted part of the time as a freshman, lost the job as a sophomore and junior and performed well as the senior starter. The Packers traded up for the player that they hope will be an adequate successor to departed Josh Bidwell. Sander will have to speed up his get off times and cure a nasty habit of drifting to his left in the block zone.
Round 6/179 — Corey Williams, DT, 6-3 1/2, 310, Arkansas State
Packers gave up a seventh-round pick to move up nine places in the sixth round. Versatile. Started at nose tackle the last two seasons but was a weak-side end in ‘01 and even played some linebacker early in ‘00. Hard working. Packers director of college scouting John Dorsey says he has better lateral movement than Donnell Washington.
Round 7/251 — Scott Wells, C, 6-2, 300, Tennessee
Four-year starter. Short and short-armed but bull strong. Set the Volunteers' bench press record at 545 pounds. Aggressive. Played very well against Miami's Vince Wilfork. Will have a chance to make the team because the Packers aren't happy with veteran Grey Ruegamer, who is behind Mike Flanagan.
Mike Sherman wasn't one of them and that's essentially why Arkansas' Ahmad Carroll was their selection with the 25th pick.
Hall was the Packers' top-ranked cornerback, but Sherman said that was based as much on his explosive punt-return ability as his talent on defense. The surprise was that Sherman had Carroll rated ahead of Robinson.
"This guy played bigger," Sherman said, referring to Carroll. "Robinson was 186 and he played off. Hall's a special player because of his return skills but he's the same speed. 4.34, 4.35."
A poll of 15 scouts conducted earlier in the month asked them to rank the cornerbacks on a 1-to-4 basis, with a first-place vote being worth four points, a second worth three and so on.
Hall led with 57 points. He was followed by Robinson with 46, Ohio State's Chris Gamble with 18, Tusculum's Ricardo Colclough with seven, Carroll with six and four players (Southern California's Will Poole, McNeese State's Keith Smith, Montana State's Joey Thomas and Oklahoma's Derrick Strait) with four.
"Thomas was a consideration," Sherman said. "But not in the first round." The Packers got him in the third round.
Even though Gamble had the size (6-1, 196) that the Packers have had at the position since Terrell Buckley's career ended in 1994 the Packers didn't regard him as a first-round pick. That was due in part to his poor speed (4.58) and score of 9 on the Wonderlic intelligence test, low among the top cornerbacks.
The Packers had no interest in Poole because of his lousy 40 time (4.62), didn't think Pittsburgh's Shawntae Spencer fit their press-coverage scheme and weren't sold on the ability of Colclough to make a rapid adjustment from Division II.
"We need speed," defensive coordinator Bob Slowik said. "This is a guy that plays more our style. He's more of a press corner than he is an off corner just driving routes."
The top nose tackle in the draft, Miami's Vince Wilfork, slipped all the way to New England's selection at 21. Sherman said he never once thought Wilfork would fall to 25 and wasn't ready to part with a second-round pick to trade up for him.
"There wasn't any opportunities to," he said. "If we didn't think there was anything in the second round we would probably have done it. I think this draft is pretty solid."
The Packers had serious concerns that the Bengals were going to take Carroll at 24 but their fears were allayed when St. Louis traded up to 24 and took running back Steven Jackson.
If Carroll had been gone, Sherman suggested he would have taken nose tackle Junior Siavii of Oregon, tight end Ben Troupe of Florida or traded down. Troupe was the Packers' second-rated tight end and Sherman indicated they had Siavii ranked over every defensive tackle except Wilfork and Tommie Harris.
"The next size guy on our board was Junior Siavii," Sherman said. "I love Siavii. The reason I love Siavii is I love the kid. I like Troupe. And people were trying to come up to get those linebackers."
Sherman was less forthcoming about Tulane's J.P. Losman, who went 22nd to Buffalo after the Bills traded up with Dallas. Sherman did say that Losman was ranked higher than No. 4 on the Packers' quarterback board.
Would he have taken Carroll over Losman?
"I didn't have that choice so I'm not going to share that with you at this time," Sherman said. "It would have been a tough call because I like Losman. But I like Carroll, too, because he can impact our team immediately."
The two leading linebackers, Jonathan Vilma and D.J. Williams of Miami, were taken 12th and 17th, respectively. Vilma's knee problem was a major concern for the Packers.
"I was concerned about his medical," Sherman said. "But I thought Vilma was the most instinctive linebacker in the draft. He was exceptional."
Asked who was his favorite player in the entire draft, Sherman said it was tackle Robert Gallery of Iowa.
When the Packers' pick in the second round (55) arrived some of the players still on the board were defensive tackles Darnell Dockett of Florida State and Randy Starks of Maryland, defensive end Antwan Odom of Alabama and safety Sean Jones of Georgia.
Jacksonville, however, wanted running back Greg Jones and traded up 15 spots with Green Bay to select him. In return, the Packers secured an extra fourth-round pick (102) in addition to the Jaguars' third-round pick (70).
The Packers had 23 players with first-round grades to start the day and had four players remaining to select from when they chose Carroll, according to Sherman.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Getting Chris Johnson back will certainly dictate the strength of that group. He's on track now to be ready to play, but you never know if he has a setback at some point. Straight-ahead, he's been running pretty hard. He hasn't been tested laterally, which will be the true test. According to the doctors, his percentages of a full recovery are going up each day." — Coach Mike Sherman on CB Chris Johnson, who is coming back from major knee cartilage surgery in September.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Two aging defensive players with Pro Bowl pasts, cornerback Dale Carter and defensive end Tony Brackens, have been to Green Bay for interviews and physical examinations this month.
Carter, 34, was cut March 16 by the New Orleans Saints and worked out for the Packers Friday. Brackens, 29, was cut March 2 by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Mike Sherman said it was possible the Packers might make a hard push to sign one or both players if they determine that their positional needs weren't met in the draft.
Carter, 6-1 and 194, underwent major turf toe surgery at mid-season. He was a starter when healthy last season before going on injured reserve Dec. 6.
In his heyday with Kansas City, Carter was regarded as one of the NFL's premier cornerbacks and played in the Pro Bowl from 1994-'97. However, he was suspended for the entire 2000 season after repeated violations of the NFL's substance-abuse policy and was suspended again for half of the ‘02 season by the league.
"He didn't run for us," Sherman said. "He's an older player but I liked him."
Asked if Carter was too great of a character risk to bring to Green Bay, Sherman replied, "I think we could handle him."
In 11 seasons Carter has started 125 of 142 games for the Chiefs, Denver Broncos, Vikings and Saints. He has 24 interceptions.
The Packers signed veteran cornerback Chris Watson this week. They tried to sign veteran cornerback Terrance Shaw of Oakland but he went to Carolina.
The only other available veterans at the position are Terrell Buckley, Ryan McNeil, Willie Williams and Doug Evans.
On Saturday, Sherman said he still hoped to retain cornerback Mike McKenzie, who has demanded to be traded. But based on the moves the club is making, including the selection of cornerbacks in rounds one and three, it seems more and more likely they will attempt to trade McKenzie.
Brackens, 29, was one of the NFL's elite speed-rushing defensive ends with 12 sacks in 1999, 7 1/2 in ‘00 and 11 in ‘01. Then, in Week 5 of 2002, he suffered cartilage damage in his left knee and underwent microfracture surgery in November of that year.
Last season, he came back to start 15 games at end and register 6 sacks, giving him 55 in his career. He underwent arthroscopic surgery Jan. 7 to repair a medial meniscus cartilage tear in his right knee.
Brackens, 6-4 and 267, had a cap salary of more than $9 million for 2004.
Sherman said Brackens passed the Packers' physical and looked good.
Brackens probably is the best pass rusher among a group of available veteran ends that includes Chad Bratzke, Lamar King, Bobby Hamilton, Peppi Zellner, Chidi Ahanotu and Tyrone Rogers.