GREEN BAY – Damarious Randall is Quinten Rollins’ best friend on the team.
He’s also, apparently, his fortune teller.
With Rollins pulled from Sunday’s game in the second half after some rough moments in the first, Randall went over to his buddy on the sideline to provide some words of encouragement.
“I just told him to keep his head up, and I actually told him that he was going to end up making a play for us,” Randall said.
He couldn’t have been more right. Thrown back into the game when fellow cornerback Sam Shields left with a concussion, Rollins found himself one-on-one with Jacksonville’s star receiver, Allen Robinson, on a deep ball to the end zone in the game’s final minute.
The former Miami (Ohio) University basketball player, who was giving up four inches to the 6-3 Robinson, played the jump ball in textbook fashion, knocking it away to help preserve Green Bay’s 27-23 victory.
Call it the ultimate rebound.
“It was either going to be a highlight, or (I) make a play,” Rollins said. “I was fortunate enough to get my hands on it enough to get it down.”
The start and the finish to the 2016 opener were dynamite for Rollins. Rewind to the Jaguars’ initial third down, and he deflected a Blake Bortles pass that was intercepted by teammate Joe Thomas.
In between his game-changing plays, though, Rollins was searching for answers. As solid a tackler as the Packers have at cornerback, he whiffed on tight end Marcedes Lewis in the open field, and a screen pass ruptured into a 37-yard gain.
He also got beat on a stop-and-go move by Allen Hurns for 30 yards, and four plays later, tight end Julius Thomas slipped behind him for a 22-yard TD with 1:09 left in the first half.
The second half began with LaDarius Gunter replacing Rollins. It should be noted that Hurns quickly beat Gunter on a similar stop-and-go move for a big play, too, but regardless, Rollins was putting himself in the right frame of mind should his number get called again.
“I was over those plays at halftime,” he said. “You play each play as its own.”
When Shields went down on the Jaguars’ final drive – “He’s in my prayers. Hopefully he gets healthy soon. We need him,” Rollins said – it was back to work. Rollins didn’t know if Bortles was going to come after him right away, but he wasn’t surprised.
Playing the jump ball is all about technique, and if a cornerback is mentally somewhere else, his technique goes to pot. Poised and level-headed on and off the field, Rollins turned back to the ball at the right time and executed perfectly.
“You want to see it before the receiver sees it, and you want to try to get off the ground before the receiver,” he said. “A lot of times on jump balls, the receiver gets off the ground before you and weighs you down to where you can’t get the elevation you’re supposed to have when you first initiated your jump.”
That didn’t happen, despite the size differential, and three plays later Rollins’ teammates stopped the crucial fourth-and-1. In the immediate aftermath, fourth down made all the highlight reels, for obvious reasons. Rollins’ play, given what he’d gone through during the day, was probably the tougher one to make.
“That’s the life of a DB in the NFL,” fourth-year pro Micah Hyde said. “Whether it’s a good play or bad play, you have to be able to flush it and move on.
“Kudos to him. He’s a professional. He does his job well. For something like that to happen to him, and then for him to come back in and make some plays, is what we need on this team. That’s the kind of teammates I want to play with.”
Rollins, Gunter and Hyde will all take on larger roles in Shields’ absence, the length of which is unknown at this point.
The defensive backfield is the Packers’ deepest position group, but with Shields, rookie corner Josh Hawkins (hamstring) and veteran safety Chris Banjo (hamstring) currently not practicing, that depth is getting tested right off the bat.
It’s all in a day’s work for this crew. They’re tight-knit and talented, and their most talkative member likes to tell the future. Even when he’s not 100 percent right, he’s right enough.
“As soon as the ball went up, I actually thought he was going to pick it,” Randall said. “That’s just the faith we have in each other.”
Spofford: Lacy got the call right away
Hodkiewicz: McCarthy: Packers have ample depth at cornerback
Hodkiewicz: Clinton-Dix can be 'as good as he wants to be,' plus other key assistant coach comments