Seeking to remedy a secondary that has surrendered 12 touchdown passes in five games and to get some fresh blood into the slumping unit, Green Bay Packers coach Mike Sherman on Friday elevated first-round draft choice Ahmad Carroll to the starting lineup.
The 25th overall player chosen in the draft, Carroll will replace Michael Hawthorne at the left cornerback spot. Hawthorne started each of the first five games and, despite a minor head injury sustained in the Monday night loss to Tennessee, is listed as probable for Sunday's matchup at Detroit.
The promotion of Carroll, then, was based on a coaching decision and was not necessitated by an injury.
A former Arkansas standout, Carroll logged considerable playing time against the Titans in the Monday night game and had mixed results. While he recorded six tackles and also had a pair of passes defensed, Carroll surrendered four completions for 81 yards. But at 1-4, the Packers, who are statistically ranked 22nd against the pass, desperately need a boost, and the defensive staff feels that the explosive Carroll could provide one.
Even the talkative Carroll, nicknamed Batman as a youngster for his penchant for leaping over the opposition center in sandlot games, understands his apprenticeship has ended.
"We don't have time for me to have a slow [learning] curve," conceded Carroll, who bypassed his final season of college eligibility to enter the 2004 draft. "I've got to go right in and make an impact, get interceptions, make big plays. Right now, they're expecting me to do more than just come in and play. I'm supposed to make something happen."
Not much good has happened in the Green Bay secondary to this point in the season. The unit has allowed 12 touchdown passes, second most in the NFL and just six shy of the 18 scoring passes the Packers surrendered during the entire 2003 campaign. Green Bay has permitted the opposition a 64.2 percent completion rate, the seventh most generous in the league, and it has only three interceptions.
The problems in the secondary are deep-rooted, dating to the spring, when veteran left corner Mike McKenzie, the Packers' top coverage defender, opted to skip offseason workouts over a contract dispute. McKenzie sat out all of training camp and the preseason, skipped the first game of the regular season and then suffered a hamstring injury after reporting.
After playing just nine snaps in one appearance, McKenzie was traded to New Orleans two weeks ago and will get his first start for the Saints on Sunday.
The Green Bay cornerbacks played well in the team's season-opening victory at Carolina but, like the rest of the roster, have slumped ever since. With the season on the brink, and Hawthorne apparently not the answer at left cornerback, Sherman felt he had to make a move in an effort to somehow turn things around.
His confident public persona aside, it remains to be seen how Carroll, who signed a five-year contract worth $7.05 million in July, responds to the challenge. He could be matched up at times against Lions first-round pick Roy Williams, the acrobatic wide receiver who is battling an ankle injury but is expected to play. In college, Carroll played man-to-man against Williams for most of one game, allowing 10 receptions for 117 yards. Carroll did manage to keep Williams out of the end zone in an Arkansas upset victory over Texas.
It is believed that the Packers will try to use veteran right cornerback Al Harris more often to try to slow Williams, an early candidate for rookie of the year honors.
No matter who he lines up against, the undersized Carroll (5-10, 195 pounds) will be at a physical disadvantage and will need to combine improved technique and footwork with his very obvious athletic skills.
"I have to play smart," Carroll said. "I can't let my excitement get the better of me."
One player hardly excited about Carroll's promotion is Hawthorne, who felt he had played well as a starter but now is likely relegated to nickel responsibilities.
"My teammates are asking, 'Are you hurt?'" Hawthorne said. "That's the [most asked] question. It's like, 'What's happening?' That's what is going around. But it's not my decision. You can do the evaluations for yourself and decide."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.