The Green Bay Packers’ top cornerback, Pro Bowler Sam Shields, suffered his fourth concussion against the Jacksonville Jaguars last Sunday. Now working through the concussion protocol, Shields may miss multiple games. Shields missed four games after suffering another concussion late last season.
Cue the Packers’ young bevvy of second year cornerbacks. Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins, and Ladarious Gunter will have to step up in a big way this Sunday night against the home/stadium-opener for the division rival Minnesota Vikings. No longer will Randall and company be playing as a complement to a more experienced leader at the position. All three young cornerbacks will be suddenly thrust into the limelight in what may very well be the biggest regular season game that the Packers have played in some time.
Not only are the Packers without Shields, undrafted rookie free agent Josh Hawkins has also been sidelined with a hamstring injury which may keep him out of the lineup for Sunday as well. The position has grown so thin that the Packers are reportedly working with practice squad wide receiver Herb Waters in an attempt to get him prepared to play corner. It’s likely that utility defensive back Micah Hyde will move up to play some cornerback with the absence of Shields and Hawkins.
Still, the bulk of the Packers’ cover defense will be on Randall, Rollins, and Gunter. While Minnesota does not boast a powerhouse passing offense, they can’t be simply written off. Last week, the Vikings put up a fairly modest 236 passing yards and 0 passing TDs against the Tennessee Titans. The Vikings are likely to replace last week’s starter at QB, Shaun Hill, with newly acquired Sam Bradford, however.
While it may take Bradford a little time to get comfortable in his new setting, there’s no question that he’s a more potent opponent for Green Bay’s defense.
Minnesota receiver Stefon Diggs poses a difficult matchup, as well. Diggs is a speedy deep threat who hauled in 7 receptions for 103 yards in the season opener. Diggs finished his 2015 rookie campaign with an impressive 720 receiving yards and 4 TDs. He seems to be picking up right where he left off.
With Shields out, it will probably fall mostly to Randall to contain Diggs. While Diggs often lines up in the slot (Randall usually plays outside), he remains the Vikings’ best receiving threat. Not only would it be unsurprising to see the Vikings move him around the field, the Packers may elect to shadow Diggs for much of the evening with their best available corner given the relative dirth of talent among the rest of Minnesota’s receiving corps and the leanness of the Packer’s cornerback situation.
While it’s a tall task, Randall certainly seems capable of taking over as the team’s number one cornerback. Randall graded out as Pro Football Focus’ best cornerback in the league last week, but this game will be his biggest test to date. Still, Randall seems poised to take his game to the next level. Sunday night is the perfect opportunity.——————
Taylor O\'Neill is a Packer fan born and raised in Oshkosh, WI. He currently lives in Florida and is pursuing his PhD. Taylor is a writer with PackersTalk.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @TaylorONeill87 for more Packer news.