Packer Nation is still divided on if Damarious Randall’s 2016 performance was terrible because he was injured or because he just plain sucks. If you fall into the former category (like me and other smart people), you probably expected him to line up at one of the outside corner spots. If you fall into the latter category, you probably also expected him to line up on the outside as well because you probably also think Dom Capers is stupid.
So when he lined up primarily in the slot for minicamp, regardless of which camp you fall in, you were probably a little surprised.
The first reaction from a lot of people (especially those on talk radio) was that if Randall is in the slot, he must not have made a positive impression at OTAs, like slot was a demotion.
It’s sound reasoning, since in most defenses, you put your best corners on islands on the outside and you put your CB3 in the slot where he should be matched up against less talented receivers and have more help since it’s harder for receivers to break away out of the slot.
But Dom Capers, love him or hate him, doesn’t run a traditional defense. Look back historically how he has used his slot when he had premium talent. I’m speaking particularly of the Charles Woodson era. Defensive Player of the Year Charles Woodson. My football role model and phone wallpaper Charles Woodson.
He was hands down their best defensive player and Dom Capers used him in the slot.
In a word: versatility.
Woodson could cover in the slot, he could blitz from the slot, he could provide run support, he could and did do anything.
In the 2010 Super Bowl run, Tramon and Shields played on the outside. Those guys were great – both of them were Pro Bowlers – they’re guys you’d pick top 10 (if you didn’t have a bomb-az talent evaluator like Double T) and you love having, but they didn’t have the versatility to play the slot the way Capers wants it. They were great on the outside, but Capers features the slot role in a special way. In fact, they call it the “star” position in his terminology.
It’s not just when he had Charles Woodson, either. After Wood left, Casey Hayward played the slot. I thought it was his best fit in the Packers D, but he proved he can handle the outside when he went to San Diego and led the league in interceptions. But Capers featured him in the slot.
Last year, he put Micah Hyde in the slot. What was Micah Hyde’s best asset?
Randall played all sorts of different coverage schemes in college. He was listed as a safety, but had a lot of man coverage responsibilities. He was known as their best cover man, but they moved him around all over. Just like Capers is planning to do with him this year.
The Packers are undergoing a defensive shift where they will be faster, more athletic, and more versatile than in the past. A chess piece like Randall at the star position will be a big piece of that.
Don’t look at slot as a demotion, look at it as a vote of confidence in his recovery and improvement.
Unless you think Charles Woodson (possibly the best defensive back in franchise history), Casey Hayward (who led the league in interceptions last year), and Micah Hyde (who just got an $8M signing bonus on his FA deal) are just a bunch of tools that Capers was hiding in the slot.