Rookie Corners Making Progress

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When the Green Bay Packers selected Ahmad Carroll in the first round of the 2004 NFL Draft, they knew they were getting speed.

At the University of Arkansas, Carroll was an All-American sprinter in both the 100 and 200 meters, and he ran a 40-yard dash in 4.26 seconds.

But five practices into his second NFL mini-camp, what's standing out about Carroll isn't so much his quickness on the football field, but his rapid development there.

"Ahmad Carroll has made tremendous progress from the first camp," defensive coordinator Bob Slowik said this week. "He's jumped out."

But he's not the only one.

GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman, who also credited Carroll, put third-round draft pick Joey Thomas in the same boat.

"Throughout the eight-day opportunity sessions that we had with them as well as this mini-camp, I see a lot of progress there and I'm very pleased at this point," Sherman said of his rookie corners. "But we have a long way to go. They're still very young and there are a lot of football practices to be played before we have a game."

For Carroll and Thomas, that's a good thing.

Considering that the Packers will have installed roughly 85 percent of their offensive and defensive packages for the first month of the season by the end of the June mini-camp, there's a lot to be learned. And for any rookie, that wall of information can be a daunting obstacle in the way of early success.

In fact, that's already been the case for Carroll, who said his improvement in the second mini-camp has stemmed in part from a better understanding of the defense.

"I was just being too anxious (in the first mini-camp), trying to go out there and make a play happen," Carroll said. "You can't do that at this level. You have to read receivers, read alignments. There's a lot of stuff you have to read before the play happens."

Of course, even then, corners have to be able to make the plays. And, while some positions -- like offensive and defensive line, for example -- are difficult to judge until training camp, when players put on pads, defensive back positions are another story.

"You get a pretty good feel, I think, when you deal with coverage people," defensive backs coach Kurt Schottenheimer said, "particularly with the style of defense that we're playing right now. Bump-and-run, certainly is a technique that you can get your hands on them and do the same thing as when you have pads."

And the more Carroll and Thomas can be in game-type situations, the faster they should be able to acclimate.

Schottenheimer said Carroll has made "a lot of strides" in recent weeks, and that Thomas -- while he needs to improve his bump skills near the line of scrimmage -- "is as good as any of them once he gets beyond 5 yards."

But it's clear to everyone involved that this is only the beginning. It just doesn't hurt that it's a promising one.

"They're a lot better than they were in the first (mini-camp)," Schottenheimer said of Carroll and Thomas. "But they're nowhere near where they need to be, obviously.

"I think there are so many things going on in their heads right now. They're thinking too much. ... It's just going to take a little bit of time. You've got to be patient."

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