Damarious Randall seeks redemption as Packers' 'star' cornerback
GREEN BAY - Not since Charles Woodson have the Green Bay Packers had a player with both the size and speed to be a triple threat at the slot cornerback position.
Casey Hayward had the coverage quickness and blitz ability but not the size to bring down quarterbacks or take on big running backs on the edge.
Micah Hyde had the size to beat blocks when he blitzed and fill gaps in the running game but not the speed to get to the quarterback or win consistently in coverage.
Both had the smarts and discipline to play the position.
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In Dom Capers’ defense, having a slot corner with a full athletic resume and a head for the game changes a lot of things. The so-called “star” position holds a certain cache in the Packers’ nickel scheme.
“The 'star' position is the position you want to play in this defense,” cornerback Davon House said. “It’s a great position to be in.”
Many would be surprised to learn the Packers are pinning their hopes on third-year corner Damarious Randall to fill that spot. Quinten Rollins will have a say in it before camp is complete and LaDarius Gunter is getting work there, but with Rollins occupying a starting spot opposite House in the base defense, the position is being handed to Randall on a platter.
It’s up to him not to drop it.
“I’m going to play a little bit of everything,” Randall said. “Really, it’s going to depend on the matchups. I don’t know, inside, outside? At the end of the day, me and ‘Q’ can play both.
“It really doesn’t matter. We’re both tremendous athletes and we both love both inside and outside, so I don’t think it really matters.”
It does matter, however, that at 196 pounds Randall runs the 40-yard dash in 4.46 seconds. Compare that to Rollins’ 4.57 and Gunter’s 4.69 and you have someone who can get from “A” (the slot) to “B” (the quarterback) in a relatively short period.
In the Saturday night practice at Lambeau Field, Capers wanted to get a good look at Randall blitzing and sent him off the edge often. Randall got on top of quarterback Aaron Rodgers on one play that even Rodgers would have had a hard time escaping.
“That was a sack,” Randall said. “I just don’t want to get close to the $100 million man.”
If everything goes right, he’ll be able to level the $87.6 million man Sept. 10 at Lambeau Field. If Randall can catch Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson on opening day, he will have come a long way at the position.
However, Randall can’t separate himself from a disastrous 2016 season with one training camp, one regular-season play or one game. Until the 2015 first-round pick puts together a successful year, he’s going to be considered a Ted Thompson draft miss.
Last year, Randall started the first three games and, after making a crucial play at the end of the Jacksonville game, fell apart. He was party to six plays of 20 or more yards over the next two games, including a critical 25-yard touchdown to Stefon Diggs against Minnesota that opened the Vikings’ lead to 17-7 in an eventual 17-14 victory.
Randall pulled his groin muscle in the Vikings game and after hurting it again three weeks later against Dallas, decided to have the injury surgically repaired. He came back for the last six games and the playoffs, but he never regained his speed and wound up allowing a team-high 8½ touchdowns.
His performance in the playoffs was particularly poor after he showed up on the injury report for the divisional game against the Cowboys with a foot injury. Randall did not tackle well, play with confidence or consistently line up the way a corner should before the snap.
In the offseason, Randall got himself ready and appears to be in much better physical condition than he was last year. Asked if he was healthy, he said:
“You can’t tell? I’m running around making plays. I mean, everything is fun again to me.”
Cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt rewarded Rollins for an excellent offseason by naming him the starter opposite House in the base defense. Randall wasn’t even in the No. 1 nickel because Whitt wanted to evaluate second-round pick Kevin King and moved Rollins to the slot when King came in.
Randall said he didn’t use the slight as motivation.
“Coach wanted to see certain guys in with the ones and see how they play,” he said. “I don’t think we have a set lineup yet. At the end of the day, the best guys will play and we’ll just go from there.”
Lately, Randall has taken over the slot with King on the bench in the nickel. Randall played outside in the base in place of the injured House (hamstring) in practice Monday, but his primary position is the slot.
“He has the ability, just like Casey had the ability to do it off the edge,” House said. “He has some pretty good pass-rush moves, dipping underneath the tackle and stuff like that, and he’s a willing tackler. I think he can make a lot of plays at the position.”
Randall is familiar with the position having played safety and slot corner at Arizona State. He has blitzed the quarterback from that position and feels it’s a huge advantage to have someone with his speed coming from the slot.
He said it will be up to Capers to decide how often the “star” blitzes.
“It’s hard to block a guy coming full speed off the edge and you standing still,” Randall said. “You can ask any guys, the offensive linemen, the running backs, I mean, I just think it’s a real tough job assignment asking a guy to block a guy steaming off the edge like that.
“It (the “star”) is fun. You get to blitz the quarterback. You get to get your hands on them, those small shift guys, neutralize them. You get to impact the game.”
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