Packers rookie corners have plenty to smile about
GREEN BAY — The text pinged into Quinten Rollins’ phone right after the biggest moment of his life.
The Green Bay Packers had just selected Rollins in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft, and after hanging up with his new employer, he checked his messages. Among the first he saw was from his new football BFF and Packers teammate, Damarious Randall.
“I just [wrote], ‘I told you,’ with a lot of laughing faces,” Randall, who’d been taken by the Packers in the first round the night before, explained Friday, after the duo’s first practice together. “He was just telling me how excited he was. And we were just excited to be working with each other.”
Wait … laughing faces? Like, emoticons?
“Yeah,” Randall replied with a real-life smile. “Because I actually use emojis a lot.”
Rollins and Randall certainly have plenty to smile about. Not only is there the opportunity in the Packers’ secondary for them to earn playing time as rookies, but the twosome will have each other to lean on as they acclimate themselves to the NFL game.
They first met at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., in January, randomly put together as roommates. By week’s end, Randall had a half-kidding prediction: That the two would up on the same team.
“Crazy odds,” Randall said Friday. “But it just worked out.”
Added Rollins: “It’s just surreal. But he’s a great player, and I’m looking forward to learning from him. He’ll probably say the same, he’s looking forward to learning from me because he brings something different to the game, I bring something different to the game. If we can combine those things while also learning from the veterans, I think it’s going to be great.”
Randall, who started his college athletic career playing junior-college baseball and played safety for two years at Arizona State, and Rollins, who played four years of basketball at Miami (Ohio) before playing one season of football there, were back to bunking in together this week for the Packers’ rookie orientation camp – and they’ll be roommates at a hotel near Austin Straubel Airport until training camp, when they’ll presumably be together again at the St. Norbert College dorms.
While their backgrounds might make their adjustment to the NFL slightly more challenging, they’ll have each other to lean on throughout the process.
“I think [that has value]. I think probably more so on the personal side,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “They’re going to go through a lot of things. A lot of their experiences will be similar. I think it would definitely help to have someone who was drafted close to you, same position and so forth.”
On Friday, though, their experiences were vastly different. While Randall did only limited drill work because of what McCarthy termed a “minor” ankle injury that shouldn’t sideline him for longer than a week, Rollins worked both outside at cornerback and in the slot as a nickel and had a pick-six interception for a touchdown during practice.
Although it was just one play in one practice, it was the kind of play that gets everyone’s attention. And for Rollins, who doesn’t plan on taking a redshirt year to develop his game, it was a terrific start.
“I know some people probably think I should come in here and probably take a year to develop [after playing basketball for so long],” Rollins said. “But just me being the athlete that I am, the competitor that I am, I’m definitely coming in here to try to earn a starting spot.
“That’s what they draft you for. Undrafted, first round, second round, third round, fourth round, you’re coming in here to compete.”
And that means Rollins and Randall will be competing with one another in addition to veteran holdovers Casey Hayward, Micah Hyde and Demetri Goodson. And they’re perfectly fine with that.
“Both of us are going to make each other better, and that’s going to make the team better,” Randall said. “[As cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt says], the best man will win, whether you’re playing corner, slot or nickel, the best players will play.
“At the end of the day, the better we both get, the better the overall team is going to be. You just never know playing football. Somebody can go down. It’s a next-man-up game. You’re just competing. And even being friends, it just both makes us better.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today,” and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.
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