Damarious Randall could be in for another busy night against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Like two weeks ago in Chicago, the Green Bay Packers may turn to the rookie cornerback with starting strong safety Morgan Burnett ruled out against Kansas City after aggravating his calf strain during practice on Friday.
Although they don’t play the same position, secondary reshuffling pulled the first-round pick into the lineup during the regular-season opener. With Burnett out, nickel cornerback Micah Hyde slid to safety and starting cornerback Casey Hayward moved into the slot in sub-packages.
Hayward’s shift inside opened up the boundary for Randall, who played 61 of 77 defensive snaps against the Bears. The defense had plenty of issues in allowing 404 total yards, but the 5-foot-11, 196-pound cornerback wasn’t among them.
Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler tested Randall on a couple occasions. The rookie broke up two passes and allowed only one completion — a 24-yard touchdown to Bears tight end Martellus Bennett with the defense in prevent — on seven targets, according to Pro Football Focus.
Burnett’s return in Sunday’s 27-17 win over Seattle resulted in Randall only playing 14 snaps in the dime package, but he still deflected another pass in single coverage and didn’t allow a catch in his coverage.
“I like Randall,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said this week. “I like a lot of things about him, but I like the way he can get up and press cover. You’ve seen him be in-phase in covering the receivers. Both teams have tried to challenge him and he’s stepped up and risen to the occasion.”
One of the reasons the Packers didn’t blink at converting Randall from a safety at Arizona State to cornerback was how much he’d drop down to the line of scrimmage and cover receivers one-on-one. Capers believes his two seasons on the Sun Devils’ back end helped his tackling entering the pros.
Randall’s ability to press at the line of scrimmage, but not get beat deep has separated him as the top young cornerback on the roster ahead of second-round pick Quinten Rollins, undrafted rookie LaDarius Gunter and Demetri Goodson.
Rollins and Gunter were healthy scratches against Seattle and could be called into the lineup with Burnett and Goodson (hamstring) already ruled out. It’s not a given the Packers will go with Randall as much as they did without Burnett in Chicago. They also could turn to backup safety Sean Richardson, who was used in some packages against the Bears to help contain Martellus Bennett.
Capers still likes what he’s seen from the rookie Randall. He likens his early contribution to another rookie who forced himself into the lineup as a rookie and never looked back: five-time Pro Bowler Clay Matthews.
“You know our history here,” Capers said. “You see these guys and we play them a little bit to start out with. I go back to the first year with Clay Matthews. Clay didn’t start until after the bye week. We were putting him in a little bit to rush here and there but once he started he took off and had 10 sacks and made the Pro Bowl or whatever.
Eddie Lacy’s upgrade to probable on Sunday likely means the Packers won’t have as great a need of veteran James Starks as it appeared midway through last week.
However, the 29-year-old running back serves a purpose in Green Bay even though he’s started only a handful of games since being the featured back during the team’s Super Bowl run in 2010.
Starks rushed for 95 yards on 20 carries when Lacy left with a sprained ankle and didn’t return in Sunday’s win over Seattle. If Lacy didn’t play against Kansas City, Starks would have been in line for his sixth regular-season start. Instead, he’ll likely be used to take some carries over the hampered back.
Now in his sixth NFL season, Starks’ job was in jeopardy when the Packers drafted Lacy in the second round in 2013, but he’s since developed a nice niche behind the 5-foot-11, 230-pound running back. It’s kept him healthy, as 2014 was the first season in which Starks played in all 16 regular-season games.
This is a big year for Starks, who’ll turn 30 in February and will be unrestricted free agent this offseason. Right now, he’s giving the Packers exactly what they need — a reliable backup to their franchise back.
“James could probably start anywhere in the league,” running backs coach Sam Gash said. “So James is a consummate pro. He works, he cares. He comes out every day and tries to work on the little things, the details, and again, I say he cares. He cares if he’s productive, if he looks the part and stuff. A lot of that is all James and his attitude and the way he approaches every day.”
Houston, we have a problem
After a long night against Seattle Sunday, the job won’t get much easier for the Packers’ offensive line against Kansas City outside linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali.
Houston (6-3, 258) and Hali (6-3, 275) are one of the NFL’s most feared pass-rushing combinations. Even in a down year for Hali, the two still combined for 28 sacks last season with Houston coming within a ½ sack of Michael Strahan’s single-season record.
The Chiefs have lined up Houston mostly on the left side and Hali on the right this season. Although the Packers know that can change in an instant, Kansas City might prefer to stay put Monday night with Don Barclay still standing in for an injured Bryan Bulaga (torn meniscus) at right tackle.
With 46 sacks in his last 45 regular-season games, everyone on the offensive line must be aware of Houston’s whereabouts.
“He moves around everywhere. Same with 91 (Hali),” right guard T.J. Lang said. “They all move around. Really just kind of like last week. You’ve got to be aware of where everybody is so you can understand where the stress of the protection is and you might need a little extra help.”
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