Replay of Aaron Nagler Facebook Live chat at Green Bay Packers training camp on Aug. 2, 2017. USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
GREEN BAY - Green Bay Packers cornerback Quinten Rollins has done a pretty good job of putting a disappointing 2016 season behind him except for one remnant that he can’t seem to get out of his mind.
It’s the memory of waking up from groin surgery in tremendous discomfort.
“It was one of the most painful surgeries I’ve had,” Rollins said. “It was terrible.”
Rollins suffered the injury in a Saturday practice the day before a Week 5 game against Dallas and struggled the rest of the season. As soon as the season ended, Rollins flew to Philadelphia and had the country’s foremost core muscle surgeon, William Meyer, repair his injury.
Meyer had operated on fellow 2015 draft choice Damarious Randall in mid-October and Randall was able to come back after five weeks. Rollins had all offseason to recover, but there was no lack of urgency with his recovery plan.
“It was just so aggressive,” Rollins said. “(I’m) talking about the day after surgery they want you walking up to a mile. They want to avoid building up scar tissue and stuff.
“I was walking like an old man. I was out in California after the surgery and the physical therapist was making fun of me, saying I needed a cane the way I was walking into doors. It was painful.”
So was the ’16 season.
But since regaining his health and putting some more muscle on his 5-11, 195-pound frame, Rollins has his wheels back on the tracks. At the start of camp, he was the No. 1 slot corner and by the third day was the starter outside opposite veteran Davon House.
Asked what Rollins did in the offseason to be grouped with the No. 1s, cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said: “He’s pretty much outplayed everybody. What he did away from here, I don’t know, but in the offseason, he outplayed everybody.”
In camp, Rollins has been matched up with Randall Cobb quite a bit and has given the veteran all he can handle. Rollins isn’t a speed burner and the groin injury made it such that he struggled to cover quick receivers last year.
In the first four games, he was the No. 1 slot. He gave up two 20-plus yard passes in the opener but settled down after that. After sitting out Games 5-7 with the groin injury, he was pressed into starting duty in place of the injured Randall.
His season started to go south during the Tennessee game when his mental error resulted in a 33-yard touchdown. The following week, Washington receiver Jamison Crowder ran right past him for a 44-yard touchdown.
As the season wore on, Rollins gave up more and more big plays. In the final six games, it could be argued he gave up or was partially responsible for seven plays of 20 or more yards, including two touchdowns.
After missing the first two playoff games, he returned for the NFC championship at Atlanta and was on the field for much of the 493-yard, 44-point shellacking the defense took.
“You just have to hit the reset button on a year like that,” Rollins said. “Obviously, you’re learning things with injury, how to take care of your body, stuff like that. And what to do, what not to do.
“You definitely can learn something year to year, if you put that in perspective. Also, you have to flush it and get focused on this year, because it’s a new year with new opportunities.”
Having played only one year of college football at Miami (Ohio), the second-round pick has focused a lot on playing the slot position in the nickel and dime defenses. But he is also seeing time outside, which means he could very well hang onto the starting position in the base defense.
Randall will have a say in that, as will rookie Kevin King. But if Rollins keeps playing at a level above the competition, he’s going to log a lot of snaps this year.
His diving interception early in camp was the first step in him proving he can at least play the ball as well as Randall, but he’ll have to stay aggressive. The Packers play a lot of man coverage and they want their corners to get their hands on more balls than they did last year.
“He’s quick,” Whitt said. “You can tell his core issues have been taken care of. He’s fluid. You can see the explosiveness out of his breaks. The kid is coming in with a focus that our standard of play wasn’t there last year and he’s a very prideful man.
“He hasn’t said two words. He’s just been working. That’s what I like. We don’t need a lot of talking.”
Rollins has not lobbied to play inside or outside in the Packers’ secondary, although when he came to the team he was identified as someone who could play in space and compete with slot receivers. Over his first two seasons, he has played both inside and out and is the only corner who has played both with the No. 1 defense in training camp.
Rollins said the work against Cobb in the slot has been extremely valuable in preparing him for what he’ll see in the regular season. To be successful there, however, he’ll have to show he can tackle running backs and blitz quarterbacks.
Randall has the advantage on him in those areas from having played safety at Arizona State.
“Obviously, you want to be out there with the 1’s,” Rollins said. “That means you’re doing something right. Be out there when ‘12’ (Aaron Rodgers) is out there, because that’s the most beneficial reps when you’re going against a great quarterback like that.
“You guys (the media) are probably reading into it more than me, because I know there’s a lot more football to be played.”
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