Randall, Jones catching McCarthy's eye
GREEN BAY - There’s still a long way to go before the Green Bay Packers' secondary sorts itself out for the regular season, but if you pinned coach Mike McCarthy down about which guys have positioned themselves well heading into training camp he would point to cornerback Damarious Randall and rookie safety Josh Jones.
Randall, as a first-round pick heading into his third year, should be standing out. Receiving praise is as much a reflection on his whereabouts the past two seasons as it is the space he now occupies.
But at this point, McCarthy needs Randall to grab ahold somewhere and so even though it’s during a time when no jobs are won, he’s upbeat about Randall’s state with the team.
“If there’s one that really jumps out to me, it’s Damarious Randall,” McCarthy said Wednesday before the team’s second minicamp practice. “(He’s) had an outstanding offseason.
“You can see his play at the nickel – the star position, we call it. A lot of guys are taking full advantage of it and the quality of practice has clearly risen from last week to this week, and that’s what we’re looking for.”
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Randall has played mostly outside in the Packers’ defense, giving way to Micah Hyde and Quinten Rollins at the “star” or slot position in the nickel defense. But he was a hybrid safety in college and is much faster than the departed Hyde and fellow third-year pro Rollins.
The Packers need someone who can both cover quick receivers in the slot and be physical around the line of scrimmage, whether it’s playing the run or blasting through a running back on the way to the quarterback. Randall has gotten a lot of work in the slot and it appears he’ll be first in line when training camp opens.
“He’s got good vision, instincts,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “He can key the quarterback and play the ball. He’s got the safety background coming out of college. He’s done a good job in there at the slot.
“It takes some instincts to play in there at the slot position. You’re closer to the action. Normally that guy, our history here is he blitzes more. He’s got the speed and he can get there in a hurry.”
Rollins appears to be much stronger than a year ago and like Randall, is fully recovered from groin surgery. The two of them are likely to fight it out for the right to play in the slot, if not the right to start in the base defense as well.
McCarthy, when asked about who had stood out during minicamp, also mentioned the safeties, who he said consistently have been around the ball. Jermaine Whitehead kept the run going with one of the defense’s interceptions in practice Wednesday and several others got their hands on passes as well.
The guy who has drawn the most attention, however, is second-round pick Jones, who spends his time in the classroom with the safeties but is also playing a combination safety/linebacker position that Capers began using with Morgan Burnett last year.
Jones has seen more snaps than just about anybody in the minicamp and probably will see that continue in training camp. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Jones has been everything McCarthy saw when director of player personnel Brian Gutekunst came off the road and asked him to watch tape of the North Carolina State prospect.
“You ask a lot of those guys because Josh has worked in two or three different spots,” Capers said. “You challenge them and settle into what you feel you can do efficient enough to win football games. We’ll be working our way through that as we go through the preseason schedule.
“Hopefully, by the time we’re ready to open up, we’ll have an idea how much guys can handle and if they can go out and perform well enough to win games."
Jones acknowledged it has been a challenge keeping up with all the assignments he has playing multiple roles. But he’s enjoying all the snaps in practice even if he hardly ever comes off the field for a break.
“That’s what you want,” Jones said. “That’s what they brought me here for, get those snaps, get those reps. The more reps you get, the more it becomes muscle memory.”