With just one year of college football experience — in a mid-level conference, no less — it might have been logical to bring Quinten Rollins along slowly.
That’s not the path Green Bay Packers cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt has chosen with the team’s second-round draft pick. Rather than locking him in at cornerback or in the slot, Whitt has been playing Rollins at both spots throughout the offseason practices.
“I thought about that,” Whitt said, “and then when you look at the big scope of things, I don’t want to limit him into saying, ‘OK, I’m just going to play him inside,’ so he doesn’t have to learn the outside, or, ‘I’m just going to play him outside’ so he doesn’t have to learn the inside. I’m going to give him as much as he handle. If I didn’t feel like he could handle it mentally, I wouldn’t do it. He can handle it.”
Rollins can handle it because he’s got a surprisingly high football intellect for a player with his level of experience. Remember, he spent four years playing point guard on the Miami (Ohio) basketball team before giving football a shot and winning Mid-American Conference Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2014. Whitt called him a “sponge” who asks good questions and quickly learns from his mistakes.
Whitt’s approach was evident during Wednesday’s organized team activity. With Casey Hayward and Sam Shields out of the lineup. Rollins worked at cornerback in the No. 1 nickel package. During a two-minute drill, Rollins moved inside with the No. 1 dime package.
“It’s been going good,” Rollins said on Wednesday. “If you learn the nickel part, you should definitely learn outside, because as the nickel, the defense aligns off you. You’ve got to make your call and the defense will adjust off you. I’ve been picking up it relatively easy.”
That’s not to say Rollins is comfortable or complacent with where he is mentally. On Wednesday, for instance, he had to be redirected because he lined up on the wrong side of the formation.
As with any rookie, Rollins is thinking his way through the play rather than just playing.
“I’m feeling relatively comfortable,” he said. “Obviously, I want to get to a level of comfort where I’m still not questioning myself. Even though sometimes I may be right, I think I’m wrong. Just trying to find a level of confidence to where I know I’m right and then I can play, instead of being sometimes hesitant. That’s going to come with the more reps I get.”
Rollins has done well with his opportunities. A couple weeks ago, Whitt pointed to Rollins and undrafted rookie Ladarius Gunter as having made the most plays of any of the cornerbacks.
That, however, comes with an asterisk.
“Let me tell you this,” Whitt said: “Until he makes plays against 12 (Aaron Rodgers), until he makes plays against 87 (Jordy Nelson) and 18 (Randall Cobb), I jump around, but then I go back and look at who’s throwing the ball and who is running the routes. Until I see him cover 87, 17 (Davante Adams), 18, with 12 throwing the ball, I’m really, really not going to get that excited because you have to cover the guys that are going to be playing on Sunday. Some of these guys that he’s covering now, they’re not playing on Sunday. And so, I’m emotional on the field because I’m trying to be high-energy with my guys, but when I go back and look, I tell them, ‘OK, that’s a nice play. Do it against Randall. Do it against Davante. Do it with 12 throwing the ball. And then, now you’re thinking about moving up. Because when we go play Chicago the first game, you have to do it against some very good receivers. So that’s what I’m looking for. That’s the real answer.”
And that’s the real competition Rollins is seeking. If he can do his job against Rodgers, he should be able to do his job against any quarterback in the league.
“Just Aaron Rodgers in itself, he makes the offense that much better,” Rollins said. “Then you’ve got great receivers like Adams and Cobb and then the other receivers that are filling in (for Nelson). That prepares you and puts you in a place that you know you can get better and excel. I don’t think we’ll face another quarterback all year as good as our quarterback. Getting to compete against him every day and getting feel for a real NFL game just by the way he runs the offense is beneficial.”email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.