GREEN BAY – He had the best season by a Packers cornerback in 2017.
He also was sent to the locker room during a game once and, after the season, was told by the head coach to “clean his own house” after making some critical comments about player accountability on defense.
It may not always be a smooth ride with Damarious Randall, the 2015 first-round pick who just finished his third year with the Packers. But there’s no denying the progress he made during the second half of this past season and how important he could be to Green Bay’s newly coordinated defense next season.
“It’s just a starting point,” Randall said as the year wrapped up, one that saw him lead the team in interceptions (four) and passes defensed (13), the only cornerback on the team in double digits in the category.
“It’s just starting off what I want to continue doing in 2018. For me to come back from those injuries and show the Packers organization and show the world what I can do, it felt really good.”
Midseason groin surgery in 2016 hindered Randall from building on a solid rookie season. He dealt with other smaller injuries along the way, too, though he still matched his first-year total of three interceptions.
He credited position coach Joe Whitt Jr. for sticking with him, and staying on him, during a rough second year.
“He just kept finding ways to keep me motivated, keep me coached up and keep me ready to play, each and every week,” he said.
Healthy for the start of 2017 and aiming for a big season, Randall let his frustrations get the best of him when a secondary breakdown led to a touchdown against the Bears in Week 4. He was banished to the locker room by Head Coach Mike McCarthy to eliminate any potential sideline distraction, and he found himself at a crossroads.
Randall hasn’t come right out and said the incident against Chicago turned everything around, but the evidence suggests it did.
The following week, he scored his second career pick-six in a dramatic win in Dallas. He intercepted passes each of the next two weeks against eventual playoff quarterbacks in Minnesota’s Case Keenum and New Orleans’ Drew Brees, to make it three games in a row with an interception. He then added a career-high fourth pick in prime time at Pittsburgh in late November against another playoff QB in Ben Roethlisberger.
Credited by McCarthy and the coaching staff for buckling down and staying focused week to week, Randall then earned late-season matchup assignments against receivers like Tampa Bay’s DeSean Jackson, Cleveland’s Josh Gordon, and Carolina’s Devin Funchess. He more than held his own, whether on the boundary or in the position he probably fits best, in the slot.
“Consistency,” Randall said of the key to his elevated game. “Consistency with staying on the field, consistency with my play, and I would consistently get my hands on a lot more balls. When I can do that as a corner, I feel I had a really good year.”
Health played a big part, though it turned out the injuries weren’t all behind him. Randall posted this week on his social media accounts that he underwent surgery on his hand. It was something he never mentioned to reporters and played through in 2017.
With the start of the offseason program three months away, there’s a reasonably good chance he’ll have no limitations with the hand by then. He’ll also be waiting to see if the Packers exercise the club’s fifth-year option on his rookie contract, a decision coming later this spring.
That call is not his to make, and if 2017 taught him anything, it’s that distractions don’t help his game nor how others view him. If his focus continues, so should his ascension, and the future will take care of itself.
“I feel I left some plays on the field,” Randall said of last season. “I feel like there’s a lot more for me to strive for next year. I just want to take that next step.”