RENTON, WA - Widely known as a defensive backs guru, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is faced with perhaps his toughest task yet at the position.
Losing both of his starting cornerbacks from Week 1 of the 2020 season in free agency, finding the right pair over the next month will be crucial to a fruitful start in 2021. After all, through the first five weeks of the season, the team will oppose receiving talents such as T.Y. Hilton, A.J. Brown, Julio Jones, Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, Deebo Samuel, Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods and others.
It appears to be all but a lock that one of the team's starting corners will be D.J. Reed who, following Quinton Dunbar's season-ending knee injury, took over as a full-time starter opposite Shaquill Griffin. But like Dunbar, who signed with the Lions in April, Griffin has since departed for a three-year, $44.5 million contract with the Jaguars. Thus, another spot must be filled alongside Reed.
With Reed expected to maintain his position at right-side cornerback, roughly five players are realistically vying for a job on the left side: carryover Tre Flowers, rookie Tre Brown and free agent additions Ahkello Witherspoon, Pierre Desir and Damarious Randall.
Randall was a member of the Seahawks in 2020, but served in a different role to the one they've etched out for him this year. Joining the team near the end of September, he appeared in 10 games with the majority of his snaps coming on special teams.
When he re-signed with the team on April 9, he was interestingly listed as a cornerback rather than a safety. Heading into his seventh year in the NFL, the 28-year old has exclusively played as a safety and special teamer since being traded from the Packers to the Browns in 2018. But with Green Bay, he logged 1,733 snaps as an outside corner from 2015-2017.
"He's a beautiful athlete," Carroll spoke of Randall. "He's really fast and he's really light on his feet. He's got real good ball sense. I went back and watched his Packer days, you know, and checked him out there when he started up. He had a really good first go-around and then not quite as effective in the years after, and then he kinda got knocked around to safety and all that."
As Carroll assessed, the 5-foot-11 Randall had an impressive rookie campaign with the Packers in 2015. He recorded four interceptions and 13 pass breakups, allowing an opponent passer rating of just 87.6 on 98 targets. But the following year, he suffered a groin injury that required surgery and forced him to miss six games. And in 2017, his season was prematurely ended by a knee injury suffered late in the year.
Injuries and recent lackluster play aside, Carroll still sees a great deal of potential in Randall's profile.
"He's got really good talent—foot speed, quickness and the ball skills are excellent," Carroll explained. "He's had some picks, you know, in his years."
With a large opening at such a pivotal position, the Seahawks don't mind getting a bit creative with the potential solution to their problem. That's what they're doing with Randall, identifying his track record of success and seeing if he can get back to that level of production.
"We told him early in the offseason, we want to give him a shot at doing this and work at it and get your mind right and all that," Carroll said. "And he jumped at the opportunity. He was excited about it, knowing that the position opened up."
While it's tough for any cornerback to stand out in this phase of training camp, when teams are prohibited from wearing pads and going full speed in practice, Carroll says Randall has made a strong impression thus far.
"I've been watching the corners really closely in these first few days and he's off to a very good start technically. And he looks really good movement-wise. Hasn't had a lot of challenges yet—nobody has; nobody's had enough challenges to know where they fit. But I'm just gauging, and so I have a good sense for where he is right now going into this second week [of camp]."
It may be easy to overlook Randall in this five-man battle, but Carroll considers him to be equally a part of the competition as anyone else.