It’s a different role in so many ways for the 2015 first-round draft pick.
In the literal sense, it’s a new position; the "star" is another name for the nickel or slot cornerback position in Dom Capers’ five defensive back package. In a figurative sense, it could put Randall in a position to become the defensive star the Packers thought he would be when they picked him at No. 30 overall two years ago.
Randall, 24, flopped last season when the Packers needed him to take over as the team’s No. 1 cornerback on the outside after Sam Shields’ season – and Packers career – ended with a Week 1 concussion. Whether it was an injury – Randall underwent groin surgery midway through the season and missed six games – or just plain poor play, the Packers ultimately went with an undrafted free agent from the same draft class, LaDarius Gunter, as their No. 1 cornerback when it mattered most late in the season and in the playoffs.
For two years, the Packers tried to turn Randall from the safety he was at Arizona State into an outside cover man in the NFL. But it was in an offseason review of their defense that Capers, cornerbacks Joe Whitt and coach Mike McCarthy decided to move Randall inside into the role – the "star" – similar to the one previously played by the likes of Micah Hyde and Charles Woodson.
“It’s a lot of what he did in college, first off,” Whitt said last week during the Packers’ minicamp. “He’s comfortable being inside, he has good quickness, he has good instincts, he has the ability to see and catch the flash of the football, he’s a smart player. I think he’s becoming a better communicator on the field and so he has the ability to be successful inside there.”
With Randall in the slot, the Packers used Gunter and veteran free-agent pickup Davon House at the outside cornerback spots in the No. 1 defense during the offseason practices. Top draft pick Kevin King, however, is expected to compete for one of those two spots but didn’t take any 11-on-11 reps in minicamp after missing all the OTA practices because his school (the University of Washington) was still in session.
At 5-foot-11 and 196 pounds, Randall is a tad smaller than Hyde (6-0, 196) and Woodson (6-1, 202), who were excellent tacklers and blitzers.
“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 being right along with Micah and being that type of players when it comes to the blitz game.”
In a minicamp practice without pads, Randall showed a flash of that with a would-be sack during a no-huddle period.
“Tackling’s hard to evaluate this time of the year,” Capers said. “We’ll have to see as we work our way through training camp and the preseason with how he does with that. I think he’s a willing guy to throw his body around. He’s not the biggest guy that you would have inside there. If we felt we needed to get bigger in there, you’ve got guys like Morgan Burnett or Josh Jones, who are the bigger body types. I think he’ll have a good combination of coverage skill, blitz skill and playmaking ability.”
It’s a role that Randall insists he likes even though it could mean he’s on the field less because he wouldn’t be in the traditional base 3-4 defense. However, Capers’ history is that he plays far more sub defense – nickel or dime – than base.
“If you’re on the field 75 percent of the season, I feel like you’re a starter,” Randall said.
“It’s more of a playmaking-type role. It’s a spot that any given play can be a game-changing play. It’s effort and running to the ball, that’s the type position it is.”
Randall insisted that he has nothing to prove after last season’s disappointment, saying all he needed was to get healthy. Meanwhile, McCarthy offered high praise for Randall’s offseason work.
“If there’s one that really jumps out to me, it’s Damarious Randall’s had an outstanding offseason,” McCarthy said. “You can see his play at the nickel, the star position, we call it.”