CORNERBACKS

Rook­ies im­press Aaron Rodgers

Packer Plus - - News - Ryan Wood

Green Bay — Every time he crouches into his stance, Green Bay Pack­ers rookie cor­ner­back Jaire Alexan­der can feel the tar­get on his back.

It isn’t by ac­ci­dent. From the start of or­ga­nized team ac­tiv­i­ties, his two-time MVP quar­ter­back is­sued a warn­ing. Aaron Rodgers wanted to pick on the Pack­ers’ rookie cor­ner­back duo this spring, test Alexan­der and Josh Jack­son to pre­pare them for the real thing this fall.

“I told them I’m com­ing af­ter them,” Rodgers said early in the OTAs.

So far, Rodgers hasn’t hes­i­tated to throw their way. In three open work­outs, Alexan­der and Jack­son have got­ten plenty of ac­tion.

It’s im­pos­si­ble to know how much NFL suc­cess the duo will have, but early signs have been promis­ing. Alexan­der in­ter­cepted Rodgers last week, read­ing an out-and-up move against re­ceiver Geron­imo Al­li­son. When Rodgers tried to hit Al­li­son with a back-shoul­der throw, Alexan­der was in po­si­tion to jump the pass.

Alexan­der said he was pleased with how quickly he di­ag­nosed the play. Af­ter the in­ter­cep­tion, he joked it took a while for him to re­lin­quish the foot­ball.

A pass taken from Rodgers is one to hold onto.

“It gave me a lit­tle boost of con­fi­dence,” Alexan­der said, “but at the same time I do re­al­ize it’s prac­tice, and we’re both work­ing on things to get bet­ter and im­prove. So I take it with a grain of salt, but I do think it was a lit­tle con­fi­dence boost.”

Jack­son also had an in­ter­cep­tion last week, though it wasn’t against Rodgers. In a closed prac­tice, Jack­son said he in­ter­cepted a backup quar­ter­back. He has used his long arms to knock away a few passes in prac­tices open to the pub­lic.

Rodgers said he can al­ready see con­trasts in how the rook­ies play.

“They’re tal­ented guys,” the quar­ter­back said. “They’re dif­fer­ent play­ers. Ob­vi­ously, Jaire is ex­tremely ath­letic, and Josh is more of kind of an in­stincts guy, but they’re tal­ented guys. Cor­ner is go­ing to be a re­ally in­ter­est­ing po­si­tion.

“I think that po­si­tion went from a need to a strength.”

Alexan­der and Jack­son aren’t the only new ad­di­tions to the Pack­ers’ cor­ner­back depth chart. They also re-signed Davon House and signed free agent Tra­mon Wil­liams, whom Rodgers called the team’s “best on that side of the ball.” Kevin King, who has been re­hab­bing his shoul­der af­ter off-sea­son surgery to re­pair a torn labrum, also fig­ures to fac­tor heav­ily into the team’s plans as he en­ters his sec­ond sea­son.

But the group’s suc­cess could largely de­pend on how its two rook­ies de­velop. The Pack­ers need more re­turn on in­vest­ing their top two draft picks on cornerbacks than they got in 2015 with Dam- ar­i­ous Ran­dall and Quin­ten Rollins.

Joe Whitt, now the de­fense’s pass­game co­or­di­na­tor, said the Pack­ers have em­pha­sized play­ing bet­ter against the NFL’s top quar­ter­backs. Nobody bet­ter to prac­tice against, then, than Rodgers.

“Twelve makes ev­ery­thing hard,” Whitt said. “One of the things that you’ve heard Mike (McCarthy) talk about is we have to do a greater job of de­fend­ing the top five quar­ter­backs. Well, when you have ar­guably the top quar­ter­back, it gives you more op­por­tu­nity to get those qual­ity reps against a guy. So when you play a (Tom) Brady, when you play a (Drew) Brees, when you play those other top-five-type quar­ter­backs, you’ve gone against that in prac­tice and you’ve had the ups and downs with that. So it’s very valu­able.”

The stage is set for some en­ter­tain­ing bat­tles be­tween the rookie cor­ners and MVP quar­ter­back come train­ing camp. That’s when the com­pe­ti­tion ramps up. As Rodgers said Mon­day, wear­ing pads can be “a great equal­izer.” In the no-pads prac­tices of OTAs, it’s hard to make any sig­nif­i­cant eval­u­a­tions.

That hasn’t stopped the rook­ies from feel­ing a lit­tle cocky, Rodgers no­ticed. Care­ful, he’s been known to put cornerbacks in their place.

“They’re talk­ing a lot,” Rodgers said, “so I’m go­ing to have to dice them up once we get down to it.

“No, I like to see the con­fi­dence, I re­ally do. That’s how you want your cor­ners to play, with that swagger, that con­fi­dence. (Alexan­der) is a lit­tle louder than (Jack­son) is, but it’s fun to look on the other side of the ball and see those guys mak­ing plays.”

JIM MATTHEWS / USA TO­DAY NET­WORK-WIS­CON­SIN

Pack­ers rookie cor­ner­back Jaire Alexan­der in­ter­cepted a back-shoul­der throw from Aaron Rodgers last week. Rodgers praised the con­fi­dence of both Alexan­der and Josh Jack­son.

Jack­son

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