GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Damarious Randall has some very big expectations for 2017 -- even if those who watched him play last season are expecting far less from him.
The Green Bay Packers’ third-year cornerback is healthy after battling a variety of injuries last season -- including a groin injury that required October surgery and sidelined him for five games -- and he believes that being 100 percent will lead to him being a far better version of himself this season.
And if the 2015 first-round draft pick proves the doubters wrong in the process, so be it.
“I was hurt. But last year is last year,” Randall said earlier this week following the Packers’ first open-to-the-public organized team activity practice of the spring. “Obviously moving forward, I am healthy and hopefully I’m going to stay healthy. And people are going to see why I was drafted in the first round.
“People are going to see why the Packers believe in me and why they kept putting me out there. People will see. My game is going to speak for itself. If I come back and be an All-Pro guy, a Pro Bowler, then people are going to say, ‘Ohhhhh, it was the injuries’ and this and that. But I’m just going to let them talk.”
Randall’s struggles last year, following what turned out to be a season-ending concussion for veteran No. 1 cornerback Sam Shields in the Sept. 11 regular-season opener at Jacksonville, aren’t that different than what wide receiver Davante Adams faced in 2015 in the wake of the season-ending knee injury Pro Bowl wide receiver Jordy Nelson suffered in preseason.
Adams suffered an early-season ankle injury that forced him to miss three games and bothered him the rest of 2015. Whether he would have adequately filled the void if healthy is hard to say, but he ended up catching just 50 passes for 483 yards and one touchdown that year. Healthy last season -- and with Nelson back in the lineup -- Adams caught 75 passes for 997 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Adams made it clear at season’s end that, to him, the obvious difference was being healthy, explaining that the ankle injury prevented him from doing things vital to his game, such as exploding off the line of scrimmage in order to beat press-man coverage. Randall, who was benched during a December game against the Chicago Bears, said he felt the same way about his surgically repaired groin.
“Not to make excuses, but obviously it was the injuries. I mean, I didn’t want to tackle nobody. Because I was afraid to tweak it, pull it, hurt it again,” Randall said. “But we were low on numbers, so I had to do what I had to do to play in the games.”
With Shields out and both Randall and 2015 second-round pick Quinten Rollins battling injuries -- like Randall did in-season, Rollins underwent groin surgery after the season -- and inconsistent play, the Packers used LaDarius Gunter as their No. 1 cornerback down the stretch. Gunter, an undrafted free agent who was part of the same rookie class as Randall and Rollins, started the season fourth on the depth chart.
“Obviously last year was a down year, I struggled,” Rollins said. “But at the same time, I know where I’ve got to get to, what I’ve got to get back to. Last season happened; I can learn from it in various ways -- whether it’s health, mentally, physically, whatever it may be. I’m just looking forward to having the opportunity to come in and compete every day.”
And there will be competition. As they did with Randall and Rollins, the Packers used their first two picks in April’s draft on defensive backs, taking Washington cornerback Kevin King (No. 33) and versatile North Carolina State safety Josh Jones (No. 61) in the second round.
With Shields having been released and do-everything defensive back Micah Hyde having left in free agency, if Randall and Rollins do prove that their down years were the result of their injuries, King and Jones could fill the voids created by Shields’ and Hyde’s departures and the NFL’s 31st-ranked pass defense could morph into a strength for the Packers.
“They felt like King was the best available and they took him. Hopefully he can come in here and contribute right away. Hell, you seen how we was last year. We were down to our fourth and fifth corners,” Randall said. "Hopefully he can come in here ready to go. He’s a big, physical corner and obviously we need one of those type guys. I actually like the pick.
“For me, it’s just getting back to playing football. I’m not injured no more, so it feels good to be healthy. Obviously people know how I play whenever I am healthy and ready to go.”
Editor’s note: Jason Wilde covers the Green Bay Packers for ESPN Wisconsin and hosts “Wilde & Tausch” with former Packers offensive lineman Mark Tauscher weekdays on ESPN Milwaukee and ESPN Madison.