This is Damarious Randall, the rising Green Bay Packers rookie in his first training camp.
He’s in the corner of the end zone, boxing receiver Davante Adams against the sideline. One-on-one, it’s his job to take a touchdown away. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers scrambles right, searching downfield. Randall turns for the football.
It drops into his arms. Interception.
“Davante had outside release,” Randall explained afterward. “I mean, it’s not many routes you can run from that release. I just kind of got my head back around, and the ball was there.”
Every training camp practice is a new day. Especially for a rookie.
Twenty-four hours later, this is Randall, struggling to keep up.
He’s flailing his arms running downfield, back turned in a full sprint. Receiver Jordy Nelson has him beat by two, maybe three steps. Randall tries to swat the football.
He’s beaten too badly. Touchdown.
“Jordy got over the top of him,” cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt Jr. said. “That was good for him to understand what real speed is, and the placement the quarterback can put the ball. He’ll learn from that.”
Learning, more than anything, has been Randall’s goal since the Packers drafted him with the 30th overall pick in the first round this spring. He’s had to absorb a new playbook. He’s adjusted to the speed of the NFL.
He’s moved to a new position.
First-round picks aren’t used to struggling. In college, they’re the best players in every game. Arizona State played Randall at safety simply because he was too good to leave on one side of the field. His job was to make an impact all over.
Now, at cornerback, Randall is figuring out how to get through adversity. He admits this first training camp isn’t easy, even if he’s held his own against some of the best players in the league. For every play he makes, there’s a miscue.
“You’ve just got to have short-term (memory),” Randall said. “Whether or not it’s an interception, or whether or not it’s giving up a play, just going on to the next play. Because every play is a different play. Every play, you’ve just got to try to compete.”
Moving from safety to cornerback only amplifies Randall’s challenge, of course.
Cornerback requires more athleticism. They’re often matched up one-on-one on deep routes, forcing them to cover more ground. Randall, running extra every day, said he’s gotten in better shape since moving from safety.
Fellow defensive back Micah Hyde is one of the few who can play both positions in the NFL. He said it’s difficult moving from the middle of the field to the perimeter, but Randall looks natural.
“If I didn’t know he played safety in college,” Hyde said, “I would’ve never guessed it. He’s smooth outside. He has good eyes. I think he gets that from playing safety. He’s combative at the line, so I think he gets that physicalness from playing safety.
“He’s doing a good job. He’s making strides each and every day. I’m anxious to see how he does in preseason, and come regular season. I think he’s going to be a huge guy in our secondary making plays and helping our team out.”
Randall’s “good eyes” may be the key to his transition.
The game looks different at cornerback, he said. A former center fielder in baseball, Randall could afford to step back and read the passer when he played safety. Now, Randall said, he’s reacting to the receiver instead of the quarterback.
“It looks extremely different,” Randall said. “With your vision. With your eye control. With the quarterback, and with you kind of not trying to peek back as much as I’m used to, and just kind of sticking to the receiver.”
Which is how Randall intercepted Rodgers.
On the play, every movement shadowed Adams. He reacted to the receiver, pinned him in the corner of the end zone, read his eyes. Only at the last moment — when the football was midair — did Randall turn around.
An hour after watching the interception, Packers coach Mike McCarthy said he was impressed with how Randall plays his new position.
“Looks comfortable,” McCarthy said. “Looks like his understanding is high. He’s very natural (with) a lot of things, but he’s like any other young player. There’s a certain way that each player — each position — is taught. The specifics of the fundamentals and how they apply to our scheme, he needs to continue to develop with that, and he will.”
Randall knows he can’t make a play, then get beat. Eventually, he’ll have to find consistency. This, Whitt said, is the natural development for a young cornerback.
“It’s not a one-for-one trade,” Whitt said. “That’s not good enough. If they throw 10 deep balls, and they catch three of them and you defend seven of them, you had a bad day. You have to understand that you can’t give up deep balls, you can’t give up touchdowns. You have to just play very, very solid, which he understands that.
“He’s going against the best quarterback in the league on one of the best receivers in the league. So it’s going to do nothing but help him.”
Hyde said it helped him.
The former fifth-round draft pick remembers getting beat in his first training camp three years ago. With a short memory, Hyde didn’t dwell on mistakes. He learned from them, adjusted and moved on.
Now he’s an integral part of the secondary. He sees the same future for Randall.
“It’s good to get beat in training camp rather than the regular season,” Hyde said. “I definitely learned from that. I remember he came to the sideline, and we were all saying, ‘Let it go. Let it go. It’s still a long practice left.’
“It’s just stuff like that, that as a young guy you player, and he’s been playing DB probably his whole life — so he knows how to have short memory and let things go.”
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ByRyanWood.