Over time, the Green Bay Packers hope that rookie cornerback Ahmad Carroll will challenge the ceiling of his potential.
How close he comes to challenging the ceiling of the Don Huston Center is irrelevant.
That's why GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman isn't concerned about the fact that at 5-foot-10 Carroll -- the 25th overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft -- is the shortest cornerback on the Packers' roster.
"One of the best defenses in football has been the Miami Dolphins," Sherman noted, "and they play two corners about the same size as him."
In fact, they do. Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain, who have been to six Pro Bowls between them in their NFL careers, are both 5-foot-11.
Furthermore, half of 2003's six Pro Bowl corners were 5-foot-11 or shorter: Surtain, New England's Ty Law (5-11) and Detroit's Dre Bly (5-9).
Beyond that, four of 2003's top five pass defenses had at least one sub-6-foot starting corner: Terrence Newman (5-11) of Dallas, Antoine Winfield (5-9) of Buffalo, Ronde Barber (5-10) of Tampa Bay and Nick Harper (5-10) and Walt Harris (5-11) of Indianapolis. The only exception to the rule was the Baltimore Ravens, who ranked fourth in pass defense last season starting corners Gary Baxter (6-2) and Chris McAlister (6-1).
"It's not so much size as how a guy plays the ball down the field," Sherman said. "Can he find the ball? If you're a small guy and you can't find the ball, you've got a problem."
One of the things that impressed Packers coaches and scouts about Carroll heading into the draft was his ability to find the ball once it is in the air. They also liked his history playing bump-and-run coverage at the University of Arkansas and think that his 41-inch vertical leap can help negate any potential size disadvantage.
But Carroll's best attribute is undoubtedly his speed -- a skill that can't be taught and that could become even more important in 2004 as the NFL looks to crack down on contact between corners and wide receivers beyond the 5-yard bump zone.
"You'd better have recovery ability," defensive backs coach Kurt Schottenheimer said in light of the rule enforcement. "You're not going to be able to stay on (a receiver) as long at the line, so that's very important."
Heading into the draft, Carroll was timed in the 40-yard dash at between 4.26 and 4.34 seconds. At Arkansas, he was an All-American sprinter in both the 100 and 200 meters.
"The game is speed," defensive coordinator Bob Slowik said. "If (contact beyond the zone) is going to be an emphasis on the officials' standpoint, we are going to have to be able to have guys that can move their feet, win with their feet."
Packers Cornerbacks By Height:
6-3: Michael Hawthorne*
6-1: Al Harris, Joey Thomas, Chris Watson
6-0: Derek Combs, Jason Horton, Bhawoh Jue*, Mike McKenzie, Erwin Swiney
5-11: James Whitley*
5-10: Ahmad Carroll