Quinten Rollins plays with the instincts, poise and toughness of a veteran.
The reality is, at this time two years ago, Rollins was gearing up for his senior season on the basketball court at Miami (Ohio).
Rollins, the Green Bay Packers’ second-round pick after intercepting seven passes and earning Mid-American Conference Defensive Player of the Year honors in his one and only season of college football, is off to a strong start.
On Thursday night in the preseason opener at New England, he broke up a pair of passes and, in perhaps his most impressive play of the night, had a hard hit on running back James White that caused another incompletion.
With the Packers playing without cornerback Damarious Randall, the team's first-round pick who sat out the game with a groin injury, it was something of a coming-out party for Rollins.
"He had a nice night," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Saturday before practice. "He did a lot of good things, particularly getting his hands on the ball. I'm sure when you talk to him he's going to be disappointed he didn't have those two interceptions. But I thought he played very well, played with a lot of confidence.
"He was definitely poised — and that's one thing you always look for in your rookies the first time they get out there."
Poise is a key component of Rollins' game, and given the position he plays, that's important. In a pass-happy league, even the top cover men lose their one-on-one battles, and the better ones move on quickly to the next play.
"I played basketball. That aspect helps me. I was a point guard. You can't dwell on one play. You have to have a next-play mentality," Rollins said Saturday. "That's just kind of my nature. I'm on to the next play. The next play is going to be coming at you, so you have to get ready for that one."
When Rollins arrived for football practice for the first time in college, his coaches wondered if the former basketball star would shy away from or seek contact. In fact, Rollins’ tackling ability was the “biggest shock,” Miami position coach John Hauser told Packer Report after the draft. That showed up on Thursday, too. While he missed one tackle, he allowed a minimal amount of run-after-catch on the completions he allowed.
“I know everybody’s big into stereotypes. It really doesn’t bother me,” Rollins said. “Everybody’s going to have their own opinion about basketball player, I mean I’ve got my own opinion about basketball players.
And that is?
“It depends on the person. You can’t group people. There are tough basketball players out there, there are also soft basketball players out there. You’ve got that in football, too. Basketball players just happen to be grouped as that. That’s not my nature. If you’ve seen the way I play basketball, I play physical.”
For what he lacks in experience, Rollins has in natural instincts. That was evident on the play against White. Rollins retreated in coverage against his receiver, saw what was coming, shot forward and drilled White just as the ball arrived.
“He’s very instinctive, very natural. It just looks easy.” receiver Ty Montgomery said.
Rollins was pleased with his performance but also disappointed. He wanted interceptions on the two deep breakups. It’s a good sign for a player who wants to be great and doesn’t intend to settle for anything less.
“I expect to make those plays,” he said. “Especially when you’re trying to be great. At the same time, you can’t get too down on yourself because if you bury yourself in a hole, you’re just going to make it that much harder to get out of. So I’ve just always been even-keeled. It’s life. Good things are going to happen to you, bad things are going to happen to you. It’s football. Good things are going to happen to you, bad things are going to happen to you. That’s just how the ball rolls.”
That mind-set was on display Saturday afternoon, as the Packers returned to practice following their 22-11 victory over the Patriots. As good as Rollins was in that game, he was beaten by rookie wide receiver Larry Pinkard on back-to-back plays during a competitive 2-minute drill at the end of practice — a 47-yarder from Brett Hundley and then an 8-yard touchdown.
"I definitely was not pleased with giving up those, especially not in 2-minute," Rollins said. "(But) I feel like my personality goes right with the position. I've just never been a real big guy on, `Oh, I made one play, let's get excited.' That's your job. That's what you're supposed to do. Just play the game like it's supposed to be played and let the rest of it take care of itself.
"It's cornerback. You're not going to be perfect every play. That's what you strive for, you always strive for perfection, but that's a far-fetched idea."
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at 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.