Over the past few months, the Packers' defensive backfield has undergone a bit of a shakeup due to injuries and other lineup changes. Two players who started the season as reserves have found themselves in the starting 11 and have made the most of their opportunities, gaining confidence along the way.
Ahmad Carroll, the team's first-round draft pick in April after coming out of the University of Arkansas following his junior season, was inserted into the starting lineup at left cornerback opposite Al Harris five games ago.
Fourth-year player Bhawoh Jue, a third-round selection as a cornerback from Penn State in 2001, has started each of the last three games at safety in place of an injured Darren Sharper and made some big plays.
In the win over the Washington Redskins just before the bye week, Jue took advantage of his extended playing time and picked off a pass. He also made a crucial recovery of a surprise onside kick as a member of the special teams in that game.
Carroll's play has not gone unnoticed either. In last Sunday's win at Houston, the cornerback - who is known more for his speed than anything else - made some big tackles, one in particular that garnered applause from his head coach.
"He made a really big play on a reverse that he didn't make earlier in the year and really did a great job on that play," said GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman when asked about the rookie's recent performance. "He's becoming a better tackler. He needs to still wrap up better - he likes to shoulder tackle people - I'd like to see him wrap up. But he's improving."
Sherman said he was impressed by what Carroll has shown him in his development to this point.
"You have no idea all the complexities that they're faced with motion, shifting, formations, personnel and how all that process can negate athleticism or disrupt your athleticism because you're thinking so much," the coach continued. "But once you're to the point where the light comes on so to speak and they see the game without worrying about if they're lined up right and someone's going to correct them all the time, he seems to have blossomed to a certain degree."
The head man has also liked what he's seen from Jue in his fill-in performances, especially with where he's come from over the course of his career.
"You consider the fact that he was a corner. Injuries, disappointments, those weigh heavily on these kids. And then you move him to safety, that's new. I think number one is that he's confident now that he can do it," Sherman said.
"I told the team the other day after practice that the light turned on for a couple guys during the week and he's one guy that I was referencing. He seems to have embodied that position pretty well and he's just playing with confidence. He believes in what he's doing now - he's not looking over his shoulder for a coach to yell at him or worrying about an injury to happen. I think he feels good about himself and with that comes confidence and hopefully success."
The 25-year old defender has made the adjustment to safety from his original position and is really comfortable with what he's doing on the football field.
"I'm not sure if it's so much confidence as it is my comfort level," Jue said. "I feel real comfortable back there and I'm having a good time. I've just been injury-free and that helps in that comfort. There's no pain - I'm just going out there and playing football, having fun playing with the guys and just enjoying myself.
"I don't think (the change from corner to safety) is so much an issue anymore. The fact that I've been able to go out there at safety and make some plays, I'm involved in a lot more things. I'm involved in the run game, I get to cover a little bit and I get to run around and just make plays. The reality of it is I'm having a ball back there."
Carroll's comfort level is improving as well, and his confidence continues to grow as he's matched up with some of the game's top receivers week in and week out, such as the upcoming test of St. Louis' Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt.
"Every week I'm getting measured," said the rookie. "Every week I'm getting tested. I've got to make sure I keep my same base and make sure I'm improving every week. It's good when you go up against great receivers and you do good against them - that means you're getting better."
Although things are improving for the young speedster, there is still one thing that he's looking to do out on the field.
"It seems like the game's kind of moving slower," Carroll explained. "I'm a little more comfortable. I'm talking a little more trash. The more I get comfortable, the more I start to talk and able to do things I wasn't able to do the first couple of games. It's good for me getting out there and being comfortable and able to make plays - I've just got to get that first interception."