No cutting corners for Packers, Falcons

Michael Cohen
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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Green Bay Packers cornerbacks Damarious Randall (left) and Quinten Rollins.

GREEN BAY - In the span of two years, general managers Thomas Dimitroff of the Atlanta Falcons and Ted Thompson of the Green Bay Packers faced nearly identical scenarios with their respective secondaries.

When the 2012 season ended, the Falcons, who went 13-3 and won the NFC South, bid farewell to three cornerbacks: They released veteran Dunta Robinson and did not re-sign Brent Grimes or Chris Owens.

Predictably, Dimitroff targeted the position in the 2013 draft. He used his first-round pick on cornerback Desmond Trufant of Washington, now the No. 1 player at his position, and a second-round pick on cornerback Robert Alford of Southeastern Louisiana, who starts opposite Trufant.

The events mirrored what Thompson navigated in spring 2015, when veterans Tramon Williams and Davon House departed through free agency and the Packers were left with significant holes. Like Dimitroff, he used his top two picks on cornerbacks: Damarious Randall of Arizona State and Quinten Rollins of Miami (Ohio).

“They’ve had a little more time,” Randall said Wednesday. “They’ve had more years in the league and more time to develop. As me and Q finish developing, we’ll get (there).”

Were it not for injuries, Sunday’s matchup between the Packers and Falcons carried with it an element of time-warped reflection. It’s rare enough when a team selects cornerbacks in the first and second round of the same draft. It’s fairly anomalous when two such teams share a field with all four corners in play.

But nagging groin problems for Randall and Rollins squelched the potential spectacle. The microscope has turned instead to their replacements, LaDarius Gunter and Demetri Goodson, who are tasked with corralling star receiver Julio Jones. Under the radar are Trufant and Alford, and they’re not bad in their own right.

“(Trufant) and Alford aren't big guys but they're fast and quick and can transition and close,” an NFL personnel man said. “OK ball skills. They can match up on the outside.”

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Added Falcons coach Dan Quinn: “At the line of scrimmage, we can count on them to challenge. We’ve matched Tru and Robert to different sides, so we love the fact that they can play both outside and inside when called upon. Both of them are very competitive.”

It’s speed that differentiates them from Randall (5-11, 195) and Rollins (5-11, 192), whose physical attributes are nearly identical to those of Trufant (5-11½, 190) and slightly bigger than the 5-foot-10, 186-pound Alford.

Trufant, the No. 22 overall pick in 2013, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds. Alford blazed through the line in 4.36 seconds. Randall, meanwhile, is the fastest of Green Bay’s pairing and he ran 4.46 at the scouting combine. Rollins ran 4.54.

Said one personnel man: “They're athletic, they have quick twitch, they have speed. The one issue is they have busts on big plays in the back end that hurt them.”

Back-end busts can be particularly problematic for Alford, who has been flagged for penalties 10 times this season, though two were declined. Even Falcons coach Dan Quinn acknowledged the problem in a teleconference when he said the coaches have spent time trying to eradicate the problem. The Packers would be wise to test him with double moves.

“We’ve worked hard to make sure that part of our game can go away,” Quinn said. “He’s got speed and athletic ability and really good ball skills, so we’re glad to see him coming through and being really disciplined in his approach.”

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The rest of the numbers aren’t pretty, either. Alford and Trufant already have matched their interception totals from last season — Alford returned one pick 30 yards for a touchdown — but the Falcons still rank 31st in passing yards allowed and have given up the fourth-most points in the league.

“They’ve been ahead of a lot of times,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “ … When you blow teams out, you’re going to give up some passing yards. They’ve been ahead and teams have had to throw it to come back against them, so you’re going to give up some passing yards.”

Yards aside, the steep investment by Dimitroff, and later by Thompson, reflects an overarching desire for long-term stability at the cornerback position. Growing pains along the way are simply inevitable.

Even still, their double-down boldness is relatively uncommon in the 21st century. Counting the Falcons and Packers, only six teams have selected cornerbacks with their first- and second-round picks in the same draft dating to 2000.

In chronological order they are the Chargers in 2003 (Sammy Davis, Drayton Florence); the Colts in 2005 (Marlin Jackson, Kelvin Hayden), the Raiders in 2005 (Fabian Washington, Stanford Routt) and the Steelers in 2016 (Artie Burns, Sean Davis).

Of note: The Steelers since have converted Davis to safety, and the Packers also drafted two corners in 1999 (Antuan Edwards, Fred Vinson).

“That’s pretty tight,” quarterback Brett Hundley said when informed of the connection between Trufant-Alford and Randall-Rollins.

And if all goes right for Dimitroff and Thompson, the future coverage will be pretty tight, too.

— Bob McGinn of the Journal Sentinel contributed to this report

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