Packers OTA Notebook: Carroll Getting Noticed, For The Right Reasons

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Ahmad Carroll isn't interested in sulking.

After the Packers signed free-agent cornerback Charles Woodson, Carroll may have been expected to do just that by those who criticized his immaturity during his first two seasons in the NFL. Carroll, who started 27 games at corner in 2004 and 2005, in essence lost his job opposite Al Harris when Woodson was brought in.

But his approach to the offseason workout program, May minicamps, and June organized team activities (OTAs) indicates he's simply doing whatever it takes to get on the field and make an impact on the Packers' defense this fall.

"He's attacked the offseason program, attacked the weight training and conditioning," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "(Secondary coaches) Kurt Schottenheimer and Lionel Washington both feel like he's making progress and it's carrying over to the OTAs.

"He's been a productive, active performer on defense, and he has tremendous energy and competitiveness. I'm just very pleased with the progress that he's made in the approach to our whole offseason program."

Carroll is certainly aware of the aspects of his game that need work. Flagged repeatedly for putting his hands on receivers beyond the line of scrimmage, Carroll has seen how often he was in good position and the hand contact wasn't necessary.

"One thing I have to do is stay consistent, and I didn't do a good job of that last year," he said.

"The emphasis is just to keep your hands off the receiver. That's why the coaches harp on technique. That's all we work on, technique and footwork. That's all you have to work on when you're on the corner, on that island."

Carroll feels Woodson gives him another veteran player to learn from, along with Harris, though he's taking advantage of their absence from the June OTAs to get all the reps he can with the first-team defense. He's also buying into the adage that a team with a bump-and-run scheme never has enough quality cornerbacks in a 16-game season, so he seems unconcerned about the question of playing time.

Carroll's enthusiasm in practice this month, with high-fiving and hollering after big defensive plays, is still too much showboating for some (he's explained he's just trying to keep practice fun and keep teammates from feeling fatigued). But he made one of his best plays this past Tuesday, intercepting a Brett Favre pass in the red zone intended for rookie Chris Francies.

"That was as good a play as you'll see," McCarthy said. "In a man-to-man situation, bump-and-run, his back was turned and he turned right at the last second and made an excellent play on the ball.

"Those are the kinds of things you're seeing from him more and more often and that's the kind of play we need from the cornerback position. We put a lot on those guys in bump-and-run situations."

Carroll's marked improvement may simply be a product of age and experience as well as hard work. A junior out of Arkansas when he was taken in the first round of the 2004 draft, Carroll turned just 21 during his first NFL training camp.

In his 13 years as an NFL assistant coach, McCarthy said he saw plenty of early-entry players have their difficulties but start to come into their own after a few years.

"My experience with juniors coming out is they struggle, they really do," McCarthy said. "The expectations are obviously high because if they are coming out they're going to be a high pick, and the maturity level is not where it would be if they come out a year later.

"There's a number of factors that work against them as far as the normal hurdles you need to overcome to be successful in the NFL. They just have more on their plate from that."

As has been documented, Carroll piled various penalty flags and unpopular antics onto that plate. But as far as McCarthy is concerned, it was swept clean when he arrived.

"I know there's been a lot of criticism in the past, and I've told Ahmad to just take it one day at a time and keep building and keep stacking successes," McCarthy said. "We've given him a fresh start and he's taken full advantage of his opportunity."

Rich Gannon Visits QBs

Former NFL MVP and veteran quarterback Rich Gannon spoke to the Packers' young quarterbacks in their Friday morning meeting, sharing how he went about preparing to play week after week.

"I told them some things I wouldn't share when I was playing, some things about my repertoire and some things I did to help me prepare for games," he said.

Speaking to the media after practice, Gannon also shared his thoughts on the Packers' top two quarterbacks, Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers.

On Favre, Gannon said the two things he looks at to evaluate whether a veteran quarterback can still play at a high level are his legs and his arm.

"I look at his legs from the standpoint does he still have the ability to step up in the pocket, get out on the edge and show quickness and that burst," He said. "Brett certainly has that ability.

"Secondly I look at arm strength. Can he still make all the difficult throws? The timing and touch throws and pump the ball down the seam?

"In my opinion he's still at the top of his game. It's a matter of putting it all together and getting comfortable with the system. I expect a big year out of Brett."

On Rodgers, Gannon said he likes all the physical tools he's seen in the 2005 first-round draft choice, and it will just take experience for the mental part of the pro game to catch up to those physical skills.

"It's being able to take all that information, process it, go out here and be a sound decision-maker," Gannon said.

"I told him there are four or five plays during the course of the game where something is going to go wrong, a guy is going to make a mistake or miss a protection, and those are the five plays you're going to be evaluated on if you make the right decision.

"Sometimes the best decision in football is throwing it away. Eliminating the bad plays from your game, that's something a young guy has to learn and the only way he's going to learn that is through playing."

Young Linemen Keep Making Strides

Rookie guards Daryn Colledge and Jason Spitz continued to work with the first-team offensive line, and McCarthy noted they both appear to be getting more familiar with the offensive system and blocking schemes.

"I think they're making very good progress, starting to reach a little bit of a comfort zone," McCarthy said. "That's where we are in our installation phase. You're seeing a lot of repeated concepts and they're not thinking. They're getting to the point where they're playing.

"The next step is once we get into pads we'll really get into the technical things they need to do on a day-to-day basis."

McCarthy added that the final three days of OTAs next week will be a combination of more installations of the system and a review of what's been covered so far. Wednesday will be the last official team practice until training camp opens on July 28.

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