GREEN BAY, Wis. – Damarious Randall loves to talk.
Just ask him.
Or his position coach, Joe Whitt, who says, “D talks all the time, but he isn’t talking about football.”
Or his fellow cornerback Sam Shields, who jokingly says, “He talks too much.”
Whitt and Shields might find it surprising to know the Green Bay Packers’ second-year cornerback didn’t always enjoy conversation. Not when the spoken word came so difficult to him.
Randall, the 23-year-old budding star of the Packers’ secondary, believes it started when he was 5.
“I actually got hit in the mouth with a baseball and it knocked out my front two teeth,” Randall said. “And ever since then I’ve had this.”
Randall stutters, and he doesn’t hide from it.
He never shies away from the media, and he regularly hosts chats on his Periscope account, where he’ll tell you about his trip to the bowling alley or an afternoon by a pool.
“It’s just something I’ve dealt with my entire life,” he said.
“The funny thing about it is my ex-girlfriend I had a couple of years ago, I never stuttered around her. Like she had no idea that I had a speech problem. Whenever I would talk to her on the phone, I never stuttered.”
With just about everyone else, there’s a hitch in his speech.
“Maybe it’s like my thought process is trying to think of so many different things,” Randall said. “I’ve just got to slow down my brain a little bit.”
That Shields and defensive coordinator Dom Capers recently praised Randall for, among other things, his communication skills, brought a smile to his face during an interview.
“Coach always tells me that the best guys have to be the best guys on and off the field,” Randall said. “So that’s just been what I’ve been working on and just taking it one step at a time. For the most part, I’m a lead-by-example type of guy. Now that I’m kind of – I wouldn’t say the older guy in the room – maybe like the second-oldest guy in the room, just to have younger guys coming in and trying to pick your brain, you’re going to have to get a little bit more vocal.”
The example Randall sets has been a pretty good one, too. Take his interception in last week’s preseason game against Oakland. The 2015 first-round pick made a leaping interception on a deep ball intended for Raiders receiver Amari Cooper, who caught six passes for 120 yards – much of it against Randall – in a regular-season meeting last year when both were rookies.
Randall insisted there was no measure of revenge for last year’s game, but it was one of his few shaky performances in an otherwise strong debut season.
“Nah, nah, nah, last year when we played the Raiders, I was a little dinged up, bruised up,” Randall said. “It was a long season, and I feel like I was off of my technique a little bit. I feel like that’s the only time guys beat me is whenever I don’t do what I’m supposed to do, and I feel like every time I get to my technique I feel very comfortable with what I’m putting up on film and I just feel 100 percent confident in myself.”
So where does that confidence come from?
“I guess I was born with it,” he said. “Ever since I was little people always said that I never backed down from anything, that I never think I can’t do anything. Just any sport. Lacrosse, soccer. I just feel like if I can go out there and play that I can be great at it. That’s just something that I have up inside of me.”
Even when he makes a mistake, like he did in last year’s playoff loss at Arizona, where he blew the coverage that led to Larry Fitzgerald’s 75-yard catch and run on the first play of the Packers’ overtime loss, he owns it – something Whitt appreciated but said wasn’t totally on Randall.
“It was 100 percent on me,” Randall said. “It had nothing to do with Joe; it had nothing to do with nobody else. That’s just the type of guy I am. If I happen to do something great to help us win the Super Bowl, I’m not going to say it’s me; it’s the team. I just wanted to let the world know that it was me. I feel like I’m going to make more plays than what I give up.”
This summer, the Packers have experimented with a new role for Randall, who last year tied for the team lead and ranked second among all NFL rookies with three interceptions (and added another in the playoffs). A college safety at Arizona State, Randall played mostly as an outside cornerback last season. This summer, Randall has lined up just as much in the slot as he has outside. The idea is to use Randall’s versatility much the same way Capers did with Charles Woodson.
Wherever Randall plays, expect him to keep talking.
“He’s a good communicator,” Shields said. “Like I said, he’s very talkative. It’s just him. He’s just being him, and that’s what we need. Communication is the key.”