Packers' first-round draft choice Ahmad Carroll has been on a quick learning curve throughout his first NFL training camp. The 21-year-old cornerback from the University of Arkansas has been locked in a battle for the starting left cornerback spot since the day he signed his contract.
Friday night in Nashville, the rookie took a step forward in making his case to in that starting lineup when the regular season opens in just over a week.
Due to a strained back, Michael Hawthorne was unable to go against the Tennessee Titans, opening the door for Carroll's first start of his NFL career. Carroll jumped at the chance, eager to face the challenge of 2003 co-MVP Steve McNair.
Carroll continued to show off the attribute that has been most visible throughout the preseason, his blazing speed. The rookie was matched up with Titans' receiver Eddie Berlin for much of the first half, and he blanketed the fourth-year player for much of the night.
Berlin managed just one catch for 10 yards, while Carroll led the Packers' defensive attack, tallying three of the team's five pass defenses on the night.
If there has been one knock on Carroll this training camp, it's that he hasn't always displayed the best skills around the ball. In the first two games of the year, Carroll was flagged once in each contest for pass interference.
Carroll said Thursday that the most important lesson he had over the course of the five weeks of training camp was to keep his hands off the receivers. Friday night, he showed that he truly had learned that lesson.
While most of the starting defense called it a night after halftime against the Titans, Carroll was still on the field deep into the second half anchoring the secondary.
Early in the fourth quarter, Titans second-string QB Billy Volek decided to challenge Carroll. Receiver Tramon Douglas ran a fly pattern down the right sideline, and the Packers' defensive back was right there with him 25 yards down the field.
Not only did Carroll prove that he's learned to keep his hands off the receiver, he showed what he can do when his hands are free. Running at full speed, the 5-foot-10 corner shot his arms into the air just as the ball arrived, and snatched the pigskin out of the clutches of the receiver.
Carroll got both feet down inside the chalk line and came away with his first professional interception.
Packers' GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman was pleased with what he saw out of his prized rookie in the final preseason tune-up.
"Ahmad Carroll did a nice job out there with his first assignment as a starter in the defense," Sherman said. "That was a nice interception he had late there in the game."
It appears that the young Atlanta native has won the confidence of his head coach. Whether he's in the starting lineup next week at Carolina remains to be seen, but you can bet Carroll will be heading into the meeting with the Panthers full of confidence in himself as well.