GREEN BAY – Damarious Randall isn’t exactly sure when he felt 100 percent healthy again this past offseason.
But he eventually got there, and he’s not looking back.
“I want to be about 200 percent before this season,” Randall said earlier this spring.
It’s a vast understatement to say Randall’s second year as a Packers cornerback in 2016 did not go as planned.
His position coach, Joe Whitt, isn’t one to make excuses for anybody, and even Whitt conceded the groin injury that forced Randall to miss six games and play at less than his capability for several others was “legitimate.”
Sitting out, trying to play hurt, coping with results that weren’t up to par – it was all a learning experience for the 2015 first-round draft pick. Randall matched his four interceptions from his rookie year (three regular season, one postseason), but everyone knew he wasn’t the same player.
“I’m a guy that relies on my athletic ability, and when you don’t have something like that, it tends to hurt you,” Randall said. “People pointed to technique and this and that, but it works hand in hand with each other. I’m just looking forward to the season.”
It showed on the field this spring. Taking a lot of snaps at the slot corner or “star” position in the Packers’ nickel package – which has become the de facto base defense – Randall was an offseason standout, according to Head Coach Mike McCarthy.
The Packers have highlighted that slot position as a playmaking spot in the past. Charles Woodson won the 2009 Defensive Player of the Year award by covering slot receivers, blitzing off the edge, and otherwise using his instincts to make a consistent impact.
Micah Hyde made his share of plays doing the same in recent years. The Packers appear they’re giving Randall an opportunity to be next up in that capacity.
“He is a very explosive player, and I think he’s going to be not only a player that can cover in the slot but also add to the blitz game,” Whitt said. “I don’t know if he’ll be as impactful as ‘Wood’ was, but I can see him right along with Micah, being that type of player, when it comes to the blitz game.”
Randall’s quickness fits the slot, he’s communicating better, and his ball skills are among the best of the corners, according to Whitt. He said Randall can “catch the flash of the football,” meaning he can pick up the ball in his field of vision at the last instant and make the play.
All that said, his strong spring has to carry over to the fall for any of it to matter.
“Every year you have to prove that you belong here,” Whitt said. “No matter what you did in the past, good or bad, it’s about what you’re going to do moving forward. I believe it’s a prove-it business, and if you don’t prove it, this league is an unforgiving league.”
If a more mature Randall is on the way for Year 3, his reaction to the draft was a good indication. The Packers selected cornerback Kevin King with their first pick at the top of the second round, but it didn’t create any consternation for Randall.
“No. It’s the NFL. They have to draft somebody,” he said. “Every day we’re just competing.”
The addition of King, at 6-3, and the free-agent signing of Davon House helps refortify a unit that lost Sam Shields and adds some different body types to the mix. As third-year players, Randall along with draft mate Quinten Rollins and the undrafted LaDarius Gunter will create a wide-open competition for the pecking order come training camp.
Randall’s strength may be the slot over the boundary, while for others it could be the opposite. No matter how it shakes out, though, no one should count on settling into one position given all the sub-packages involving defensive backs McCarthy has hinted at playing this season.
“We can place guys anywhere at any given time,” Randall said. “We’re going to need a bunch of interchangeable guys.”
The biggest change Randall is focused on, of course, is with his health. That’s where it all starts.
“I’m glad last season happened, so I can build off it,” he said. “It’s something I’m going to keep on learning from, and (this year) it’s going to be a totally different story.”