Green Bay - At the same time the Green Bay Packers were pondering their fate at the left cornerback position, there were faint signals being sent that a resolution in the Mike McKenzie holdout could be on the horizon.
It has been widely speculated that McKenzie, in the 24th day of a holdout, would report to the Packers the week before the first regular-season game so he could pick up the first of his 17 weekly checks totaling $2.75 million. During much of his eight-month dispute with the Packers, he has been in Memphis, Tenn., where he conducts his off-season workouts.
Two sources indicated that there were signs McKenzie was considering reporting to camp, one of whom said McKenzie recently stopped training in Memphis and might be preparing to report. Another said McKenzie had discussed the possibility of reporting with friends but was unsure whether he was sincere about it.
Contacted Sunday evening, McKenzie's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, declined to say whether McKenzie's situation was about to change. Asked if reports of McKenzie reporting for camp were true, Rosenhaus said, "You're fishing."
McKenzie has kept a low profile and hasn't allowed Rosenhaus to discuss his situation with reporters, leading mostly to speculation about the cornerback's future. A source in the Packers organization said he was unaware of any talks between the Packers and Rosenhaus regarding McKenzie's return.
Packers negotiator Andrew Brandt, who has kept in contact with Rosenhaus over the past couple of months, did not return a phone message.
The Packers have not shown a willingness to trade McKenzie despite interest from the New Orleans Saints, who are looking to upgrade their cornerback position. Another potential trading partner is the Dallas Cowboys, who are struggling to fill their right cornerback position.
Rosenhaus recently completed negotiations with the Chicago Bears on a contract for his client, defensive end Adewale Ogunleye, who held out of Miami Dolphins camp because of a contract dispute. The trade was made after the Dolphins could not reach agreement with the disgruntled Ogunleye.
Coach Mike Sherman has publicly held a hard-line approach with McKenzie, refusing to discuss his future until he reports to camp. Though the Packers have had discussions with teams about a trade, Sherman is reluctant to deal McKenzie for fear other disgruntled players will make similar demands.
In the meantime, the Packers are still struggling to fill the void McKenzie has left during his holdout. The club would love first-round draft choice Ahmad Carroll to fill the spot in lieu of McKenzie, but that appears wishful thinking after Carroll's frightful performance Saturday night in the team's 19-14 exhibition victory over New Orleans.
Just three weeks away from the season opener against the Carolina Panthers, Carroll appeared Saturday night to be more of a project than a ready-made product. If the opener were tonight, veteran Michael Hawthrone would be the starter.
"There are things that take a little bit of time," defensive coordinator Bob Slowik said of preparing a rookie. "Nobody comes into this league or any league and just knows those things and has them nailed down after three weeks of training camp.
"We're going to have to live with some growing pains."
Hawthorne has had his troubles, as well, and won't offer the same speed Carroll would if he were the starter. Against the Saints, Hawthorne got lucky when quarterback Aaron Brooks threw errantly after receiver Joe Horn got a step on him on a go route. He also failed to get a bump on receiver Jerome Pathon on a third-down play.
The Packers' immediate concern is getting Carroll back on track. Against the Saints, Carroll was penalized three times, once for being offside, once for holding and once for pass interference. In addition, Horn and fellow wide receiver Donte' Stallworth made Carroll look invisible on four slant patterns, all over the course of two consecutive series.
With each one, Carroll seemed to lose confidence in his ability to play the route. He appeared to give a little more ground on each play rather than challenge the two Saints speedsters.
I am thrilled with this news, a disgruntled McKenzie is still better than any other corner the Pack have. It's a shame to hear that Carroll is coming along slowly, but if McKenzie is willing to play, then I think he, Thomas, and Hawthorne can fill the nickel role admirably.