GREEN BAY – The Packers’ defense is in adjustment mode once again, but that’s just how this season has gone.
With the news Wednesday that rookie cornerback Kevin King’s year is done due to his shoulder injury, and with veteran corner Davon House also missing practice with a shoulder issue, suddenly a bright spotlight falls on third-year pro Damarious Randall heading into Sunday’s game against Cleveland and receiver Josh Gordon.
Randall had started settling in at the slot cornerback, or “star,” position in the Packers’ defense through the middle portion of the season. In addition to having him cover slot receivers, defensive coordinator Dom Capers used Randall in run support and as a blitzer in the pass rush as well.
The 2015 first-round draft pick had become one of Green Bay’s more consistent defenders and playmakers this year. He intercepted a pass in three straight October games and added a fourth interception two weeks ago at Pittsburgh.
Last week, with King out, Randall moved back to boundary corner for a fair number of snaps against Tampa Bay’s DeSean Jackson, and he helped hold the speedster to just two receptions for 24 yards.
Randall’s challenge in Cleveland, whether he takes on Gordon or Corey Coleman, will be a significant one, but he’s feeling confident lining up in the slot or on the boundary – joking with reporters that he knows exactly what this week’s game plan calls for, but they’ll have to wait until Sunday to find out.
“Wherever the team needs me, to be honest with you,” Randall said of his role. “I feel like I can make plays. I have made plays both outside and inside.”
With the Packers using safeties Morgan Burnett and Josh Jones regularly in a hybrid linebacker role, and with Capers’ frequent deployment of a dime package with six defensive backs, the secondary’s depth continues to get tested.
Cornerback Josh Hawkins and safety Jermaine Whitehead, both undrafted rookies a year ago, have seen their snap counts rise. Two undrafted rookie corners in Lenzy Pipkins and Donatello Brown could get their number called as well. Of the two, Pipkins has played more this season.
Veteran Demetri Goodson also was activated from the physically unable to perform list (PUP) to take King’s spot on the roster. Goodson hasn’t played since suffering a major knee injury last November at Washington, and he missed Wednesday’s practice with a hamstring injury.
House’s status for Sunday’s game hasn’t been determined, and the fact that he returned to last week’s game against Tampa Bay after injuring the shoulder on a contested sideline pass against Mike Evans, at least gives him a chance.
The front seven isn’t entirely healthy, either. Outside linebacker Nick Perry (foot/shoulder), inside linebacker Jake Ryan (neck/illness) and DT Quinton Dial (chest/knee) all missed Wednesday’s practice.
Their availability as Sunday gets closer will be watched, too, but regardless, it’s an all-hands-on-deck situation against a Cleveland offense that looked rather different a week ago in Gordon’s long-awaited return.
Browns QB DeShone Kizer targeted the former 1,500-yard receiver 11 times against the Chargers despite his having not played since 2014. Gordon caught four passes for 85 yards.
“It just requires guys to step up,” outside linebacker Clay Matthews said. “There's been some guys like Hawkins and Whitehead who have kind of embraced that role of coming in off the bench when needed and we're going to ask them to do even more. Guys like Damarious as well.
“I'm not sure who's going to be out there this weekend, who's going to play behind us, but we've got a tall task.”
None taller than perhaps Randall’s if he gets assigned to Gordon as the healthiest of Green Bay’s top corners.
“Everybody in the world knows that Josh Gordon is getting targets,” Randall said. “The only guys I know who get targeted like that are Antonio Brown, A.J. Green, Hopkins from Houston. That just says a lot about what he’s been doing in practice that the coaches feel that comfortable to just tell the team this is our best player and we’re going to get the ball up in his hands.”