The Green Bay Packers' defense has something to prove, a theme carried over from Sunday's practice.
"We've got a chip on our shoulder. No one expects anything out of us," linebacker Nick Barnett said on Monday. "We're going to surprise a lot of people around the NFL and around the world."
Barnett backed up his words. During the morning practice, he knifed through the offensive line to stop running back Najeh Davenport in his tracks.
To improve their tackling, the team goes through daily drills where defensive coordinator Jim Bates emphasizes hitting the ball carrier low and playing with good leverage. During the morning session, the defense clogged up running lanes on the interior and perimeter. The focus on fundamentals could help a defense that allowed 4.6 yards-a-carry last year.
"We are going to be a good tackling team," he said. "We cannot allow the big run."
Bates praised the depth of the defensive line, singling out defensive tackle Cletidus Hunt.
"Since he's been here, he's been very attentive in the meetings," Bates said. "He's done a good job as far as on this practice field."
Barnett said the defense is picking up the new scheme quickly, giving reason for the defense's leader to boast.
"As soon as that first game hits or even the preseason, we're going to unload," Barnett said, "and give you all a taste of what we've got out there."
Mind Over Matter
If cornerback Ahmad Carroll's technique matches his athletic ability, he can become a special player.
An All-American track star at the University of Arkansas, he has run the 100 meters in 10.28 seconds. Despite that blistering speed, he committed too many illegal contact penalties in the 11 games he started last year. This year he has concentrated on using his feet instead of his hands, and he better understands the sophisticated nuances of a pro scheme.
"It's kind of slowed down for me," he said.
Bates disputed rumors of his disappointment with the 2004 first-round pick. Carroll's performance since June's OTA has impressed Bates.
"He was not in my doghouse. Anybody that doesn't make a play or something, we're going to get after them," he said. "He's responded very well, and we're very pleased with his progress."
In 2004 Carroll sometimes became confused with his role before each play. Now after recognizing the alignment, he checks with the safety.
"Even if I know what do," he said. "I still talk to him."
In the morning session, Carroll read a Brett Favre pass and jumped the ball intended for wide receiver Javon Walker. He would have had the interception but dropped the ball. Disappointed in his drop Carroll smacked his hands together after the near game-changing play.
That play typifies the strides he has made since last year, but he still must beat out second-year player Joey Thomas for the starting left cornerback position. Thomas, who missed the morning practice with a calf injury, is slated as the starter right now.
"It's a good competition," head coach Mike Sherman said. "It'll remain that way until there's a sure-fire guy we're going to anoint."
Fun And Games
Sherman, who cut an organized team activity short by introducing a dodgeball game, was at his old tricks on Monday.
To break up the tedium of a balmy morning practice, he ended the session by having the offense and defense each pick a rookie lineman to field high-arching punts from the Juggs machine.
The selected players, offensive lineman Junius Coston and defensive tackle A.J. Lindsay, snagged the balls as other players tried to break their concentration by throwing anything they could, including tennis balls and pieces of athletic tape, at them.
"Both those guys looked pretty good. We might have to give them a chance in the game," Sherman joked. "I don't know how much yardage they'd get."
Linebacker Nick Barnett disputed their skills.
"They had a spiral on the punt," Barnett said. "It made it easy for them."
Favre threw three touchdowns, two to Javon Walker and one to Donald Driver, during red zone drills.
Although Sherman said the defense held their own, he singled out Favre's play.
"Both sides did well. I thought there was good give and take," Sherman said. "Favre and his receivers connected pretty well."
The defense's performance was impressive considering they installed the red zone defense on Sunday night.
"We'll be ready once we get it all down," Barnett said. "We're going to clean that up and come back. Tomorrow (Favre) won't get any touchdowns."
Quick Hits: Running back Ahman Green's back stiffened up before practice, causing him to miss the morning session. ... Running back Chaz Williams did not practice during the morning session because of an ankle injury. ... Running back Chris Robertson broke his kneecap during a nine-on-seven drill in the morning on a play unrelated to safety Nick Collins' tackle. ... Barnett on Bates, who wore a sweatshirt despite temperatures in the 90s: "I told you he's a little crazy."... Cornerback Leigh Torrence missed the special teams practice because of a groin injury. ... Monday's afternoon practice devoted to special teams lasted only 45 minutes.