GREEN BAY - As the Green Bay Packers reconvened Monday morning, Lambeau Field bore the emotional toll of report card day on a uniquely professional level.
In the days prior, while players flitted from state to state during the bye week, coach Mike McCarthy and his staff conducted their annual self-scout to identify areas of weakness. An early bye lessened the typical volume of team data, and their primary focus shifted accordingly.
“It really gives you the time to knuckle down on the individual,” McCarthy said. “That part has been good for us, and that’s where we spent our time.
“I would think any player — I know the coaches enjoyed it — would like to go to a meeting and have a total breakdown of themselves presented to them with video and data. I think that in itself will refocus them and get them back into it.”
The experience was more enjoyable for some than it was for others, and when a crowd gathered around Damarious Randall’s locker, the second-year cornerback knew exactly the types of questions he would be facing after consecutive poor performances. So he asked for a brief reprieve to finish dressing, cracked a joke about the relationship between yards allowed and reporters present, and then began an interview that was equal parts atonement and obfuscation.
Over the next 10 minutes, Randall provided explanations and excuses for his subpar performances against the Minnesota Vikings, when wide receiver Stefon Diggs caught 10 passes for 182 yards and one touchdown, and the Detroit Lions, when Marvin Jones Jr. caught eight passes for 205 yards and two touchdowns.
At times he accepted responsibility; at times he dished out blame. He told reporters technique was part of the problem; he said his coverage was mostly perfect against Detroit. He explained that failure, however large, was simply part of the game.
“That’s part of being great, and that’s part of me wanting to be great,” Randall said. “I just see a guy that’s going to bounce back because I just know myself and just kind of looking forward to the challenge this Sunday.”
When Randall wasn’t at fault, he blamed the league for favoring wide receivers: “I think that’s what the NFL wants to happen because with all the rules and stuff that they have that we can’t touch guys and I know a lot of guys don’t like getting flagged. Obviously, they let most receivers get a last little tug at the end and the receiver catches the ball and the fans start hollering, ‘Yay! Touchdown!’ But I just think it’s great for the NFL. I just think it’s great for those guys that are catching passes and that’s why corners get paid as much money as they do whenever there are great, great corners.”
He did it again when asked about his stumble on a deep touchdown pass to Jones last week: “We just both happened to get tangled up, and if it was the other way around and the receiver fell and I end up catching the ball, they probably would have threw a flag. So just for the most part I mean that’s just a play you can’t really correct nothing in the film because I was in perfect coverage. I was right there. I was in perfect coverage most of the night, even the one that he caught the one deep ball on me. I was there, and he just made the play. Sometimes guys are going to do that because that’s this league. For the most part, I feel like I played pretty well against the Lions.”
When he watched film from the last two weeks, Randall noticed his own mistakes over the talents of wide receivers he covered: “I know we’ve been struggling, me in particular, and the great thing about that is I’m not struggling because of the receivers. I’m struggling because of myself. Just knowing that, I know I’m going to bounce back. That’s really the best part about the bye week is to know that it’s me. If it was the other way around, then I would be in trouble. If I was doing everything perfectly great and I was still getting passes caught on me, that’s when I would be worried and probably think my name might be coming down (from the locker).”
When asked how he can improve, Randall pointed toward poor habits during preparation: “Maybe I’ve just got to focus more. Maybe I’ve just got to put in more work in the film room. Even when we’re facing guys that aren’t Pro Bowl-caliber receivers, just maybe if I take each and every guy more and more like they’re talented receivers, just like every receiver up in the league is talented. One week I have a great week against a Pro Bowl receiver and then the next week I didn’t have a great game against the Vikings or a very great game against the Lions. That just goes to show that every receiver at any given time can catch a pass on you and any receiver can make plays. We’re in a passing league, and that’s why corners get paid a lot of money.”
Randall missed a portion of Monday’s practice as trainers taped his left thumb, which Randall said he injured during the first quarter against the Vikings. The injury prevented him from playing as much press coverage as he would have liked and contributed to the larger cushions for Diggs and Jones.
He later dropped out of practice a second time, shed the tape and did not return during the portion open to the media. His post-practice comment was strange: “I didn’t bang up my thumb today,” Randall said.
Injury aside, Randall will play a significant role Sunday against the New York Giants, whose three-headed receiving corps is one of the best in the league. With veteran Sam Shields still recovering from a concussion — his status for the weekend is uncertain — Randall may even draw the assignment of tracking Odell Beckham Jr.
And while his distribution of blame may vary, Randall's confidence surely does not. He can't wait for Sunday's challenge because he's already forgotten the last.
“I mean honestly, I’m going to make a lot of plays this year,” Randall said. “I’m going to give up a couple plays, but for the most part everything is going to start sinking in sooner than later. And that’s the great thing about the coaching staff and this organization because everybody knows how good I am. And obviously I know how good that I can be whenever I’m at the top of my game. Just kind of looking forward to that this Sunday and just for the rest of the season.
“People are going to talk, so I’m just going to let them talk. And for the most part, just know that Damarious Randall isn’t going anywhere.”