FOXBORO, Mass. – It’s just one preseason game, but the Packers appear well on their way to replacing the two cornerbacks they lost in the offseason.
Rookie second-round draft pick Quinten Rollins was one of the defensive stars, and undrafted rookie LaDarius Gunter made the game-changing interception in the Packers’ 22-11 victory over the Patriots in Thursday night’s preseason opener at Gillette Stadium.
Both young corners played more than perhaps anticipated with first-round pick Damarious Randall, as well as Tay Glover-Wright and Demetri Goodson, sidelined by injury, and they didn’t disappoint.
Rollins was all over the field and quickly proved he belongs in the pro game. He broke up three Jimmy Garoppolo passes intended for receiver Josh Boyce, nearly picking off two of them. He also used a low hit on running back James White to dislodge the ball from his grasp on a short pass, and he attacked the receivers who did catch passes on him with sharp tackles.
For a four-year college basketball player who played just one season of football at Miami of Ohio, Rollins said he heard questions in the pre-draft process about how physically he’d hold up. Those questions were answered on Thursday.
“That’s just my nature. Growing up I was a physical kid,” he said. “I don’t mind the physical part.
“Even though corners are supposed to be cover guys, I want to be an all-around player. Obviously I want to cover. That’s what corners get paid to do. But I also want to be known for being able to come up and hit. They don’t expect that from them.”
All that’s left for Rollins is to catch the ball. His only regret was that he didn’t get an interception or two.
Assuming Sam Shields and Casey Hayward start on the outside, Rollins could find a role in the nickel or dime packages as a rookie. Randall should be in the mix, too, and Gunter continued his strong bid for a roster spot as the Packers rebuild their cornerback depth following the departures of Tramon Williams and Davon House.
On the opening series of the third quarter, Gunter practically stole the ball from Boyce and then raced 28 yards the other way, setting up a TD run by rookie running back Alonzo Harris two plays later. Boyce ran a “stick route,” and Gunter transitioned out of his backpedal and broke on the ball perfectly.
It was the type of play Gunter has been making in practice, and now he showed he can make it in a game as well.
“I went to bat the ball down, but it kind of fell in my hands, and I just went from there,” he said. “It’s always a big deal when you can transfer your practice habits to the game and make plays.”
The Packers’ pass rush was the other defensive story, as Garoppolo was sacked seven times. A number of the Packers’ young defenders got in on the act, including rookies Jake Ryan and Jermauria Rasco, and second-year guys Adrian Hubbard, Carl Bradford and Jayrone Elliott.
“You see it in practice,” said second-year defensive lineman Mike Pennel, who played a ton of snaps up front with Mike Daniels and Letroy Guion both out with injuries. “To see it come to fruition in a game it’s exciting.
“We have a lot of good guys. Everybody works really hard, and we’re glad to come out with that result.”
Offensively, backup QB Scott Tolzien picked up where he left off last August, hitting second-year receiver Jeff Janis on a go route on fourth down for a 26-yard touchdown in the second quarter.
The speedy Janis hadn’t tried to run by cornerback Logan Ryan until that play, and he appeared to surprise him on fourth-and-1. Tolzien’s lofted throw was right on the money.
“Scotty’s been making good throws all camp,” Janis said. “He’s been doing his job, so he made my job a little easier.”
The TD was Janis’ third in his two preseasons since coming to the Packers as a seventh-round pick from Division II Saginaw Valley State last year. The competition at receiver is fierce, with rookie third-round pick Ty Montgomery looking impressive and Myles White steadily making plays, but once again it was Janis coming up big in a game.
“Coming from last year, being a rookie there’s so much to learn,” Janis said. “It’s a lot easier to go up when people see you make plays, and your second year you have to maintain that. Hopefully I can show the coaches that and be able to make this team and be part of the team this year.”
After Harris, who led the ground game with 41 yards on seven carries, scampered for his TD, the Packers got their final points on rookie QB Brett Hundley’s 10-yard TD pass to undrafted rookie running back John Crockett.
Hundley was a solid 4-of-6 for 60 yards in his debut, including a 31-yard connection with rookie receiver Larry Pinkard prior to the TD. The fifth-round pick from UCLA credited his teammates with keeping him calm in his first pro action.
“My first play, I came in and (John) Kuhn was cracking a joke and the O-line was cracking jokes too,” Hundley said. “We were having a good time and they sort of eased my nerves that way.”