GREEN BAY, Wis. — When Damarious Randall arrived at the Senior Bowl in January, he was unfamiliar with Quinten Rollins. By the time the two cornerbacks left Mobile, Ala., they were good friends who were hoping they’d somehow end up on the same NFL team.
It was more of a joke than a serious discussion between them. Paired together as roommates for that week, Randall and Rollins spent their down time getting to know each other all while accepting that it’d probably be a limited-time relationship.
Randall knew it would take "crazy odds" for them to be drafted by the same team, especially with both projected as first-to-second-round picks.
When Randall was drafted at No. 30 by the Green Bay Packers, he received plenty of messages. None of them were from Rollins, who had to go to sleep that Thursday night with his future yet to be determined. As Randall observed the second round of the draft that next day and heard Rollins was selected at No. 62 by the Packers, he immediately contacted his former roommate.
"I just texted him like, ‘I told you,’ with a lot of laughing faces," said Randall, who added that most of his text messages include frequent use of emojis. "He was just telling me how excited he was. And we were just excited to be working with each other."
The unlikely scenario of Randall and Rollins reuniting was reality. And just as they did a few months earlier, they would once again have to find a balance between friendship and competition.
"We’ve built a strong enough friendship where we’re not going to be jealous of one another," Rollins said. "We’re teammates at the end of the day, but we’re also competitors in our hearts. I think it’s going to be great. I’m glad I got to meet him at the Senior Bowl, and it’s been a great friendship ever since."
To really bring their story full circle, Randall and Rollins were booked together as roommates when they got to Green Bay for rookie orientation camp.
Replicating their experiences from the Senior Bowl, Randall and Rollins used their time in the same room to study. If one of them makes a mistake on the field, they talk about it so that the other doesn’t make the same mistake. If one of them learns something new, they share it with the other to make sure they both know it.
"We’re just both kind of helping each other out and just kind of passing along little tips and things to use," Randall said. "That’s kind of like my best bud right now."
The best buds got to spend a little time watching the NBA playoffs, too, and Randall was well aware of Rollins’ four years as a college point guard. Though Rollins’ advanced basketball statistics show that he had 1.6 defensive win shares as a senior for Miami (Ohio), there’s a big difference between Mid-American Conference competition and guarding the NBA’s recently crowned Most Valuable Player.
"I was joking with him about, I was asking him, could he cover (Stephen) Curry," Randall said. "He was just kind of laughing about it, saying ‘Curry was an animal.’ Just a friendly joke."
Things get serious when it comes to their individual work on the field, and it’s possible that only one of them will get a chance to contribute significant snaps to the Packers’ defense this upcoming season. With Sam Shields and Casey Hayward still the early favorites to claim the two outside cornerback spots, and with Micah Hyde’s skills in the slot and Demetri Goodson’s year of experience under his belt, it won’t be easy for Randall or Rollins to make their mark right away.
"At the end of the day, the better we both get, the better the overall team is going to be," Randall said. "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 makes us both better."
Randall and Rollins were told the same thing that Shields, Hayward, Hyde and Goodson will be told: the best players will play, regardless of contracts or draft positioning.
First impressions can sometimes go a long way, but no one ever made a career out of one great rookie camp practice. Just as no one’s career was irreparably harmed by not performing well — or performing at all — in those practice settings.
After a couple days in Green Bay, though, Rollins lived up to the billing as having great ball skills while Randall had to watch from the sideline. Randall suffered a minor ankle injury before reporting to camp, which led the team’s medical staff to decide to play it smart and limit his on-field action.
"Just kind of watching the practice, learning, just taking a lot of mental reps," Randall said in terms of what he can accomplish without practicing.
Meanwhile, despite Rollins’ continued proclamations that he has to "work on everything" after playing just one season of college football, his "off the charts" playmaking ability was on display after a much-talked-about interception return for a touchdown in Friday’s practice.
"Just reading," Rollins said of the play. "I know my positions. I have my reads; two on the outside. I saw that and I just buzzed back to No. 1, and I was just saw the ball coming so I made a play on it. I was just in the right spot at the right time."
Even if Rollins downplayed it as much with teammates as he did with media, it’s likely that the highlight-reel play somehow came up later that night when he and Randall were evaluating their first full day with the Packers.
"He brings something different to the game, I bring something different to the game," Rollins said. "If we can combine those things while also learning from the veterans, I think it’s going to be great."