Jets cornerback Ahmad Carroll has gone from being a trumpeted first-round pick in the NFL draft to scrambling to reconstruct a reputation in the Arena Football League.
Selected 25th overall by the Packers in 2004, Carroll was expected to develop into solid cornerback — at least — with the potential for stardom. It didn't play out way. He started 27 games in his first two seasons but struggled in coverage and by one unofficial count was flagged for a penalty a game.
A day after an October 2006 loss to Philadelphia in which Carroll allowed two touchdowns and committed three penalties, he was released by Green Bay. His talent bought him another chance with Jacksonville later that year, but he played just one game for the Jaguars. That time it was an off-field transgression that cost him his job.
Two days following an arrest in the early morning of May 7, 2007, Jacksonville released him. There weren't many, if any, suitors for Carroll. Unable to ink another NFL deal, he turned to the AFL.
Carroll signed with the Orlando Predators and his 63 tackles, four fumble recoveries and interception helped lead the team to a playoff berth. It didn't matter much, though. Starring in that league wasn't his childhood dream.
"It was definitely humbling," said Carroll, 25. "Anytime something you love to do is taken away and you don't have the opportunity to do it anymore, it's a humbling experience."
Missing out on the 2007 season was a blow to his pride and, it goes without saying, his wallet. He desperately wanted to begin a reascension, but with his stock and spirits low and his NFL career seemingly caput, Carroll was up the creek without a paddle.
But he was tossed a green and white life preserver when the Jets signed him two days before training camp opened.
"I liked the things he did on tape," said coach Eric Mangini, who admitted that he wasn't too familiar with the rules of the AFL, "but I can tell you if a guy can hit, tackle, run and cover. Those things are apparent, and I liked the things he was doing there."
Mangini said that Steve Yarnell, the team's security director, did a thorough background check and Carroll was worthy of the organization's trust.
Carroll considers this a one-shot deal.
"I've got this opportunity here and I have to make the most of it," he said. "To tell you the truth, this might be my last chance in the league."
On his right forearm he has his father's name, Arthur, tattooed. It's been there since he was in high school, but it now holds more meaning. He wears it now almost like a permanent "WWJD" bracelet, except the reminder is more like, "What Would Dad Say." As he moves forward, he said, the advice his father gave him following his ordeal echoes in his mind.
"He told me to approach the situation and handle it like a man," Carroll said. "He said, 'If you don't learn from your mistakes, the same things are going to happen again and again.' "
It's sound but simple advice. But having had, then lost, then been presented with the chance to have once more, Carroll certainly can't afford to have it happen again. And he swears that he has learned his lesson.
He has also learned the defense.
Carroll's first week in camp was rough, and he admits as much. He is and will be a physical cornerback — it's his game — but he was, at times, too hands-on with receivers in practice, creating enough contact downfield to where he would have drawn illegal contact and pass interference calls had they been games.
But his play has picked up the last couple of weeks. He looks more comfortable in coverage, not relying on grabbing so much anymore, and a few times when he's been tested deep, he has flashed the 4.41 speed — and he showed it on a 49-yard kickoff return against the Redskins last Saturday, too. He has also caught two interceptions in training camp.
"It's just a couple of things," he said of his gradual improvement. "I had to get with the coaches and learn the defense a little more and get comfortable. So far, that's been going well and I'm getting better bit by bit."
The Jets hope that continues, on and off the field. He has certainly won over his teammates.
"He's a joy to be around and one of the funniest people I've ever met," said safety Eric Smith, who described Carroll's deadpan delivery. "Sometimes you're not even sure if it's a joke right away. He'll look dead serious when he says some of the goofy stuff, and that's part of the humor itself."
Bryan Thomas concurred, but had a slightly different take.
"He's a good dude," said Thomas, whose locker is adjacent to Carroll's. "He's sneaky with the comedy. He looks serious all the time, but he's got jokes. They're corny jokes, but he tries."