LaDarius Gunter shows promise with pick

Foxborough, Mass. — The play panned out as something of a recreation from the first day of a training camp, an unexpected glimmer from an unknown player, although his exploits have become more and more routine.

It began with a play-action fake near midfield, a backup quarterback working through reps the New England Patriots hope will prepare him to replace the potentially suspended Tom Brady. Jimmy Garoppolo feigned a handoff to the running back, turned to face the field and zipped a bullet toward the left sideline.

The pass arrived with four hands there to meet it, two from intended receiver Josh Boyce and two more from LaDarius Gunter, a cornerback for the Green Bay Packers. Leather of ball met leather of gloves in an entangled heap. The ball squirted free.

Gunter pounced, just as he has done all throughout training camp, and with two hands he secured the first Green Bay Packers interception of the 2015 season. A 28-yard return set up the go-ahead score one play later, and the Packers exited Gillette Stadium with a 22-11 win thanks in large part to an impressive performance from a pair of young corners. Their efforts, buoyed by a stout defensive effort across the field, limited Brady and Garoppolo to less than 170 passing yards combined.

"We're getting our hands on a lot of balls," coach Mike McCarthy said. "As a secondary, it's happening a lot more this year. You can see it in the practices and it definitely carried over to the field."

With the cornerback position an obvious area of need following the off-season departures of Tramon Williams and Davon House, the Packers opted to solve the problem with youth. Their top two draft picks were used on corners, with Damarious Randall chosen in the first round and Quinten Rollins taken in the second.

Rollins began training camp on the physically unable to perform list, which enabled Randall to take a heavy dose of reps early on. Randall, who played safety at Arizona State, adjusted well to both the slot and outside positions, and within days he was the third corner on the perimeter behind veterans Sam Shields and Casey Hayward.

But a nagging groin injury that pulled Randall out of practice on two occasions prevented him from traveling to Massachusetts this week. The roles reversed, and Rollins was a mainstay on the edge Thursday night.

"It was fun to actually get out there and go against some guys we haven't seen since we got here in May," Rollins said. "It was fun to go against a different opponent, get a different look."

His enjoyment was undoubtedly enhanced by a sterling introduction to the NFL. Rollins, playing in the second unit, excelled as he deployed a physical brand of football predicated on challenging for the ball in the air. Twice he nearly intercepted passes from Garoppolo, and twice more he made impressive leaps to contest alongside a receiver.

He prevented four catches in the span of two drives during the second quarter alone.

"First time into action he got his hands on a couple balls," Hayward said. "He was a little disappointed. He should have caught both. I told him don't worry about it. He was in good position. This is preseason ball. We're going to drop some. I have dropped plenty since I've been here. I told him it's not going to be his last time. I thought he played pretty well."

With Randall injured, the remainder of a beautiful Massachusetts night belonged in many ways to Gunter, an undrafted free agent from Miami. Gunter made headlines on the opening day of training camp when he logged the first interception of Aaron Rodgers during 11-on-11 drills. His extremely physical play throughout camp — cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt Jr. said Gunter excels with hand placement at the line of scrimmage — bothered some of the Packers' most veteran receivers.

Gunter surfaced again with his team trailing 11-9 early in the third quarter when he made a mid-route adjustment to intercept Garoppolo. What he initially believed to be a "go" route morphed into a quick stick along the sideline. Gunter stopped, broke back toward the line of scrimmage and thrust his hands into the midsection of Boyce.

Using the same hand strength that enables him to jam receivers, Gunter inadvertently launched the ball into the air in front of the Patriots' bench. He snagged it at waist height and bolted the other way.

"I just tried to sit down when he sat down," Gunter said. "I actually went to bat the ball down, and it popped up in my hands."

A lengthy runback moved the ball deep into Patriots' territory. Tailback Alonzo Harris bounced outside for a 25-yard touchdown on the very next play to put the Packers in front.

An unexpected glimmer, indeed.

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