GREEN BAY – When they were rookies, Green Bay Packers cornerback Damarious Randall and Carolina Panthers receiver Devin Funchess were just two guys trying to offer more than the average first-year player to their respective teams.
Their paths crossed Nov. 8, 2015, when the 6-1 Packers traveled to Charlotte to play the 7-0 Panthers.
Both had an impact on the game. Funchess beat Randall for a 52-yard reception and a 14-yard touchdown. Randall broke up a key third-down pass to Funchess late in the game, stopped quarterback Cam Newton on a third-down scramble and picked off Newton to set up the offense at the Carolina 22 for a potential touchdown and tying 2-point conversion with just more than 3 minutes left.
At the time, Funchess, a second-round pick, was the No. 3 receiver behind Kelvin Benjamin (who was injured) and Ted Ginn. Randall, a first-round pick, was the No. 3 cornerback behind Sam Shields (who was injured) and Casey Hayward.
On Sunday, the two will meet again, this time as No. 1 receiver and No. 1 cornerback.
“That was two years ago,” Randall said. “I feel like we’ve both changed our game. We’re both a lot more comfortable up in the league now. Yeah, I’m just looking forward to that matchup.”
The 6-4 Funchess came into the league weighing 232 pounds, making him practically a tight end. The Panthers list him now as 225 pounds and it’s obvious to Randall that he is a different player than the one he faced in ’15.
Funchess ranks second on the team behind running back Christian McCaffrey with 57 catches for 762 yards and seven touchdowns. Benjamin was dealt to the Buffalo Bills at the trading deadline in part because they played the same position and the Panthers liked Funchess better.
“I feel like he’s gotten a little more slimmer, quicker, toned up a little bit,” Randall said. “He’s a veteran-type. He’s more feisty and a more veteran-type receiver now.”
Randall matched up with the 6-4, 225-pound Josh Gordon last week against Cleveland and there’s a good chance he’ll match up on Funchess. After holding Gordon to one catch in man-to-man coverage, Randall said he’ll do whatever defensive coordinator Dom Capers asks him to do.
“If I do get that, that would be nice,” Randall said. “At the end of the day, just whatever it is to help the team win games.”
Let’s dance: Mike McCarthy was offering a high five on the sideline, raising his right hand. Jamaal Williams, briefly, considered celebrating a little more enthusiastically.
When he arrived on the sideline after opening Sunday’s game with a touchdown, the Packers rookie running back started dancing in front of his coach.
“I saw him put his hand up,” Williams said. “I thought, ‘Oh, coach about to get in on this,’ you know what I mean? I was about to hit it, and then I saw him give me a high five. I thought, ‘Yeah, he’s not ready yet.’ We’ll get there, though.”
Williams’ assumption was correct.
“I wasn’t ready yet,” McCarthy said, joking Wednesday morning. “Just a little self-conscious out there in front of 50,000 people, I guess. No, I wasn’t going to dance. I’ve got an extra point to worry about. Got to look for flags. Got things to do.”
Williams has become a dance machine in his first season with the Packers, revealing his outgoing personality. He often dances after touchdowns, or simply between plays.
Eventually, Williams said, he believes his head coach can bring something to the party.
“He’s pretty limber already,” Williams said. “He just has to be flexible in the hips. He’s got it, he just needs practice. That’s all.
“I can’t wait to. That’s going to be a great day.”
'Mo better: Wide receiver Geronimo Allison broke a five-game streak in which he had not caught a pass with a four-reception game against Cleveland.
Though he has been mostly invisible on offense, Allison has been improving on special teams and has come close to blocking two punts. Considering he was a novice on special teams when he arrived last year, he has come a long way.
“He has just come on and done such a good job,” special teams coach Ron Zook said. “I’m so proud of him because it is new. It’s like you just don’t go and be a receiver, you don’t just go and be a DB.
“There’s techniques and things you have to work at and he’s put everything into it. He knows, he asks good questions, he studies, he wants to perform well and he’s tough. I can’t say enough about him.”