douglas photo 12-1

Packers cornerback Rasul Douglas breaks up a pass intended for Rams wide receiver Van Jefferson during the second half last Sunday at Lambeau Field.

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GREEN BAY — The cacophony of yet another postgame celebration faded, and a silence fell over the home locker room inside Lambeau Field. The Green Bay Packers’ victory over the visiting Los Angeles Rams last Sunday had been over for only a matter of minutes, and coach Matt LaFleur was turning the floor — in the middle of the gigantic G logo on the carpet — over to one of the game’s biggest stars.

No, not Aaron Rodgers, who’d thrown for two touchdowns and run for another. Not wide receivers Davante Adams or Randall Cobb, who’d accounted for 199 yards and a touchdown. Not sack leader Rashan Gary, the former first-round pick who’d played through a painful elbow injury and delivered a strip-sack fumble deep in Rams territory that set the tone for the day.

Check out some of the top performances from Green Bay's 36-28 victory over the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay.

No, LaFleur’s hand-picked guest speaker was cornerback Rasul Douglas, whose pick-six interception return had been the play of game — and whose low-key addition to the roster in early October is looking like a stroke of brilliance by general manager Brian Gutekunst and the personnel staff.

“I just told them, ‘I appreciate all you guys in here. Y’all made me feel like this was home,’” Douglas recounted. “And that’s a good feeling to have.”

The good feelings are mutual. On Wednesday, Douglas won the NFC defensive player of the week award, making him the first Packers cornerback to be so honored since Pro Football Hall of Famer Charles Woodson won it in October 2010.

“Rasul has been a huge pickup for us. You’ve got to give credit to Gutey and his staff for finding him,” LaFleur said. “I just love how he competes. You see it play-in and play-out. The guy is so competitive.

“I think our guys have really embraced him and took him in, and we’re lucky to have a guy like that. It’s rare that you find a guy like that midseason.”

No one knows how difficult it is to be an NFL vagabond better than the 6-foot-2, 209-pound Douglas, who entered the league as a third-round pick (99th overall) by the Philadelphia Eagles out of West Virginia in 2017.

When the Packers signed him off the Arizona Cardinals’ practice squad on Oct. 6, they became Douglas’ sixth team in the past two years. So when he says his Packers teammates have made him feel at home, that’s coming from someone who fully grasps what it means.

“It’s crazy how that happens in this league,” Packers defensive coordinator Joe Barry said as the coaches did their self-scouting work earlier this week. “I just can’t believe that this guy hasn’t landed a secure spot on a roster (before now).

“Every time he’s had an opportunity, he’s done a great job. What an unbelievable pro he is.”

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Those opportunities began when the Packers lost second-team All-Pro cornerback Jaire Alexander to a shoulder injury during an Oct. 3 win over Pittsburgh. With Alexander, who still has yet to return and may not play again this season, sidelined, the Packers pursued ex-New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore — and likely would have signed him had the Patriots cut him as they’d planned to do.

Instead, they found a trade partner in the Carolina Panthers, and with the Packers too salary cap strapped to take on Gilmore’s salary via a trade, the Packers signed Douglas instead. He didn’t play that week at Cincinnati, and the following week at Chicago, Barry started Isaac Yiadom, whom the Packers had acquired from the New York Giants in a training camp trade.

But when Yiadom struggled on the Bears’ game-opening touchdown drive, Barry and defensive backs coach Jerry Gray went to Douglas — and he’s been a vital part of the defense ever since, from his victory-clinching interception at the end of the Oct. 28 victory over his former team, the Cardinals, to Sunday’s interception return for a touchdown.

While Alexander has yet to return, No. 2 cornerback Kevin King has missed six games due to injuries and first-round pick Eric Stokes was sidelined Nov. 7 at Kansas City by a knee injury suffered in pregame warmups, Douglas has played 392 of the 455 defensive snaps (86.2%) over the past seven games.

“When you’re talking about Rasul, how was this guy on the practice squad?” Rodgers marveled. “The dude has made so many plays for us. He’s got great instincts, good ball skills, opportunistic plays for us.”

Cornerback Rasul Douglas, running back A.J. Dillon and quarterback Aaron Rodgers speak to the media via Zoom after the Green Bay Packers defeated the Los Angeles Rams 36-28 on Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay.

Given the NFL relaxed its practice-squad rules last year amid COVID-19 to allow players of all experience levels to join practice squads, and the league held a variation of that policy over this year (teams are allowed two keep two players of unlimited experience in 2021), Douglas likely would have been unemployed under pre-pandemic roster rules.

Instead, the Packers snatched him off the Cardinals’ practice squad, and his addition may turn out to be the difference in Green Bay earning the NFC’s No. 1 playoff seed and a first-round bye. The win over Arizona gave them the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Cardinals, and the win over the Rams, who might’ve mounted a successful comeback if not for Douglas’ touchdown, will be vital in tie-breaking procedures, too.

For his part, though, Douglas is just grateful for the opportunity, and for the way his teammates have embraced him. Whatever contributions he makes are payback for finding at long last what he hopes is a permanent NFL home.

“They’ve accepted me with open arms. First day coming in, getting coached right away. Even players are helping me out. ‘Oh, yeah, come on, let’s get this down pat,’” Douglas said. “They’ve definitely opened me up.

“I give the defense and the coaches (the credit). … They make you feel like you’re here for a reason. They just give me an opportunity to keep making plays, keep putting me in situations.”

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This article originally ran on madison.com.

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