'He’s a magnet wherever he goes': Rasul Douglas quickly weaves himself into Buffalo Bills


Staff member

The day Rasul Douglas arrived in Buffalo, Bills running back Ty Johnson was standing at the pingpong table. Johnson knew of Douglas, but they had never met. But when Douglas walked up, it was time to compete.

“He came right to the pingpong table, and I was like, ‘Oh, you want a few volleys?’ ” Johnson said. “And he’s like, ‘No, let’s get it.’
“And I’m like, ‘Oh! What’s your name again?’ ”

Douglas, who’s coming off an AFC Defensive Player of the Week award, has quickly made himself known to Bills fans since being acquired Oct. 31 in a trade with the Green Bay Packers. He arrived the next day and quickly got to work.

In a little more than two months, Douglas has four interceptions, including last week’s pick-six, eight passes defensed and two fumble recoveries.

When he returned his second interception 40 yards for a touchdown against the New England Patriots, his teammates were quick to surround him to celebrate.

Competitive but encouraging, Douglas is used to pulling people in.
“He’s a magnet wherever he goes,” said Christian Grimbilas, one of Douglas’ early mentors in his native New Jersey.

‘You had to win’​

Grimbilas and Brandon Ellis are physical education teachers at the Cicely Tyson School of the Performing Arts in East Orange, New Jersey, the place that raised Douglas.

When Douglas visits home, he’s sure to check in with those that poured into him.
“He will come in town and hang out with a couple old gym teachers,” Ellis said, “And chop it up about football all day long.”

Douglas has a few stops. There’s hanging out with Grimbilas (whom Douglas calls “G”) and Ellis. There’s bowling with Sandrea Gregory, whom he calls Ma.
“That’s my family,” Douglas told The News. “And some kind of way, they helped me with my life, my journey.”

Douglas’ high school coach, Marion Bell, tries to make it so his former players come back to inspire the next generation of kids, no matter what career path they take. Bell, Grimbilas and Ellis all say there was a time when they weren’t sure what route Douglas would take. East Orange can be hard on kids. Douglas faced plenty of adversity that shaped him into the person who returns to the community today.

“Some kids go to college, and they kind of like just disappear,” Bell said. “When he went to college – even during his great years at West Virginia, when he was leading the country in interceptions – he still would come back home and train with me.

“And that’s what I realized like, ‘Man, this kid is humble, you know? And he really wants it. He really wants to be really good at this.’”
Losing was never an option.

“Really, Rasul came up in a neighborhood where you had to win,” Gregory said.

“And if you lost on this place that we just call Church Hill – that’s where all the guys played football – if you lost, he was going to hear it until the next Sussex Avenue game. … So, nobody from Sussex Avenue really wanted to get roasted all day long, the next day.”

When Douglas got a key to East Orange in August, 2018, he presented it to his beloved grandmother, Carletta Williams, who raised Douglas and six siblings. A picture of that moment, with Douglas alongside Williams and one of his youth coaches, Mike Davis, hangs in Gregory’s apartment in East Orange.

When Douglas goes home, when he walks in and sees pictures like that, he’s reminded of far he’s come. Of how much further he still wants to go.

Bills cornerback Rasul Douglas plays to the Bills fans in the crowd during the second quarter against the Los Angeles Chargers on Dec. 23.
Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News

‘An old man’s game’​

It wasn’t always certain that Douglas, 29, would come to Buffalo. Looking back at the trade and how Douglas has performed since, Bills General Manager Brandon Beane understands why Green Bay didn’t initially want to part with the cornerback, who is under contract with the Bills through next season.

“I think people see why they were hesitant to do it,” Beane said.

Beane credits Packers General Manager Brian Gutekunst for “positive conversations,” starting a few weeks after Bills star cornerback Tre’Davious White went on injured reserve in early October.

The Bills first reached out to Green Bay the week before the trade deadline, with director of player personnel Terrance Gray making a call and then encouraging Beane to check in with Gutekunst. At first it was a no. But Beane called again on Monday, the day before the trade deadline. Again, no.

“It was multiple conversations over multiple days before in Gutie’s eyes that we offered enough, which was a top-100 pick,” Beane said. “And that’s what he kept saying: ‘It’s gotta be a top-100 pick to do it.’”

Beane was looking for four benchmarks in any trade: the right type of player for the defense, a contract that the Bills could afford, a team that’s willing to do it, and finally, agreeing on fair compensation. Finally, Beane made his offer attractive enough for Gutekunst to say yes. The Bills acquired Douglas and a 2024 fifth-round pick in exchange for sending Green Bay a 2024 third-round pick.

“Luckily, with like an hour to go, we got it done,” Beane said.

Douglas, meanwhile, was caught off guard. Packers teammates were jarred. Many called Douglas a brother. Keisean Nixon, who was with Douglas with the Packers and Raiders, didn’t know what to say.

“I don’t really even have no reaction,” Nixon told reporters. “I was really lost for words. I mean, I understand it’s a business, but I’m still sick to my stomach, honestly … it’s hard for me, honestly, but at the end of the day, I don’t got no answers. I’m lost.”

But Douglas said his goodbyes, and when he arrived in Orchard Park, he set out to form the same type of strong bonds here.

“Rasul has a way about him that allows him to fit into a team’s culture and a team’s environment rather quickly,” coach Sean McDermott said Friday. “Just in the way he carries himself, the way he approaches ball and how he studies. I think that just speaks to how he’s built, his personality, his DNA, maybe as well, the way he was raised.”

Beane isn’t surprised at how quickly Douglas has acclimated from a football standpoint.

“On tape, he just fit this defense so well,” Beane said.

But it’s more than that. Douglas’ instincts are also critical.

“He understands things, even if the coaches didn’t go over it,” Beane said. “He’s just got that feel… if there’s a slant coming, there’s probably a flat backside or something like that. He just – yes, he learns, he studies the game. But teams always do things that are not on film, too. You’re gonna get a little bit of both.

“And he is one of those guys that does not have to actually rep it.”

And that’s not surprising to those who have watched him ball for years.

In high school, Douglas would get tired of always winning against his classmates. So he’d challenge his teachers to basketball.

“We always knew all the tricks and stuff and we would always laugh and be like, ‘Oh, that joker got an old man’s game. He plays like he’s an old man,’ ” Ellis said. “And what we love about watching him play is – even when myself and G are watching him play today – we still see that in his game, like when he’s playing corner. He doing all these tricks and little things to bait people into making throws and all this.

“And we’re like ‘Yo, I remember that from playing basketball with him.’ ”

The Numero Uno culprit​

In December, practice squad defensive back Josh Norman went out to his truck only to find it filled all the way up with popcorn. Bags and bags piled up, and opened popcorn all over the floor.

When there’s a prank, Norman knows who to look for: Douglas.

“It’s HIM,” Norman said. “He’s the one putting popcorn in my truck. Without question. The first (thing) that happens, anything around me or in the vicinity – it’s him. He’s always the Numero Uno culprit.”

Friends and family from back home can attest to the pranks. Gregory recalls him moving all sorts of things – desserts, dish towels, you name it – around her house. Ellis, Grimbilas and Bell have all born witness to his mischief.

But it’s never malice underlying the pranks. Instead, it’s Douglas’ humor. His ability to lay plans for future joy.

“He likes to be happy; he chooses to be happy,” Gregory said. “That’s what makes me proud.”

When Douglas isn’t pulling pranks or watching film, he’s likely playing pingpong or cornhole or Uno.

Fullback Reggie Gilliam joined the Uno table recently, hoping for a fun and friendly game. That was not what he found.

“There’s a lot of yelling,” Gilliam says. “And he [Douglas] makes sure nobody cheats. Gotta show all your cards at all times. And you know the rules, if you don’t say ‘Uno!’ as soon as you put your card down, he’s on it. … He’s pulling your cards up for you, sliding it to you.”

Douglas maintains that he has to check.

“[Bills cornerback] Josh Norman is the cheater,” Douglas said last month. “He had five cards in his hand and went around and got back to him, and he had Uno, and no one knows how he had Uno. He stood up and all his cards fell out of his pocket. That’s the real cheater.”

For transparency, Norman says that he is not the cheater, and that Douglas is.

“We’re all real competitive,” defensive end Greg Rousseau said. “Rasul’s definitely one of the ones at the top of the list, when it comes to (who’s) serious about it. … I don’t like sitting next him, though. Rasul will kind of look at your cards.”

Or does he? Rousseau quickly retracts.

“I won’t even see him look at my cards,” Rousseau continued, “But he does a really good job of reading the room and knowing like, ‘He don’t got blue,’ or ‘He does have green,’ or whatever. So, it’s a lot of fun playing with him. He’s really good, though. I’d definitely say top two, three in the locker room.”
No matter how he’s playing, Douglas is sure to talk trash.

“Oh, your typical cornerback,” defensive tackle Ed Oliver said of Douglas. “Very hostile, very competitive. Anything that can describe your ideal athlete, he is that. … Has a lot of faith in his ability – sometimes a little too much faith, especially on the pingpong table. But just a great teammate, great guy to be around, highly competitive.”

There are plenty of things the Bills love about Douglas. They especially love how his competitive nature translates to the field. To their team. To their wins.
“He’s a competitor, just like he got the three big plays on Sunday,” Rousseau said. “He does the same thing in Uno. Just being in the locker room and having those moments with each other, when you see Rasul running down with the ball on the sideline, it’s even more special.”

Injury report​

Bills center Mitch Morse (illness) is questionable for Sunday’s game. He popped up on the injury report Friday and missed practice. There are no other injury designations for the Bills.

For the Miami Dolphins, cornerback Xavien Howard (foot) and outside linebacker Bradley Chubb (knee) are out.

Wide receiver Jaylen Waddle (ankle), running back Raheem Mostert (knee/ankle) and outside linebacker Jerome Baker (knee) are questionable. Though the Dolphins have had a lengthy injury report, no other players have injury designations for Sunday.