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Carroll Gets First Taste Of NFL


If there was any chance that first-round draft pick Ahmad Carroll didn't appreciate the challenge ahead of him, Robert Ferguson put it all in perspective Friday, less than 30 minutes into the rookie's first NFL mini-camp practice.

With the cornerbacks and receivers matched up in one-on-one drills, Ferguson ran straight toward a backpedaling Carroll, threw in a wicked stutter-step that froze the former University of Arkansas standout and blew by him for an easy pass-and-catch from Doug Pederson.

The receivers hooted and hollered. Carroll jogged back to the sideline. And defensive backs coach Kurt Schottenheimer summed it up: "Welcome to the NFL," he said.

Welcome, indeed. The 25th overall pick in last weekend's NFL Draft, Carroll is a player for whom the Packers have high hopes. But for the moment he's just a rookie, prone to rookie mistakes just like the rest of them.

"I tell you what, that was spectacular," Schottenheimer later recalled of Ferguson's footwork. "I looked at (Carroll) and said, 'I really don't know what to tell you on that one. But you'd better have a little more cushion.'"

The comforting thing is that the Packers didn't draft Carroll because he plays well with a cushion. They drafted him in large part because of his success playing bump-and-run.

And even in his first professional practice, the 5-foot-10 Carroll didn't shy away from larger receivers. Nor did he back down from competition.

Asked later about the play in which he was left in the dust by Ferguson, Carroll was already looking ahead to next time.

"I just have to make sure I always go up against Ferguson or a couple of the starters (in practice)," Carroll said. "That'll really help me in the long run."

When it comes right down to it, that's when the Packers hope Carroll can stick with moves like the one Ferguson showed him Friday -- in the long run.

Although Mike McKenzie's trade demands create a potential immediate need, asking Carroll to fill that hole may be unrealistic. After all, if he hadn't declared early for the draft, the 20-year-old would be entering his senior season at Arkansas.

That's not to suggest, however, that the Packers are counting Carroll out. Rookie or not, the coaching staff still feels he'll make an immediate impact on the Packers' secondary.

"I don't want to put any limitations on anyone," Schottenheimer said. "I think that some players have the ability to step in right away and contribute ... You just have to put them in a competitive environment and see how they respond."

Schottenheimer knows that from experience. In 2000, when he was the defensive coordinator with the Kansas City Chiefs, he watched a rookie fifth-round draft pick (Pat Dennis) beat out a rookie second-round pick (William Bartee) and a cast of veterans for a starting job at corner.

By the time the 2004 season starts, Carroll could very well be ready to make that same leap. He just wasn't ready to do so Friday, in his first practice on the job. And to have expected that, his teammates say, would be unfair.

"I'm sure he's just as good as any of those other corners," said wide receiver Javon Walker, who himself battled through growing pains after being made the team's first-round pick in 2002. "But it was just his first day. That's why when Ferg beat him, I was just telling everyone, 'It's his first day.'

"He's a freshman now. And once he develops and knows what's going on, he's going to be the player he knows he can be."

For Carroll, confidence isn't an issue. In fact, he got beat by Ferguson in part because he was trying to do too much too soon.

"I was real anxious, trying to go out there and make something happen," Carroll said. "You've got to be patient, got to let the game come to you. It's not like college."

Not anymore.

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