GREEN BAY, Wis. – Almost everything about Green Bay Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander is unique.
He has a unique style. (Check out the glasses.)
He has a unique way with his words. (“You ever seen an ant climb up a mountain?”)
Alexander’s rise to NFL superstar is unique, too.
When Alexander was 3, his 8-month-old brother died from a birth defect called prune belly syndrome in which he was born without abdominal muscles. Growing up in Charlotte, Alexander didn’t always know where he’d call home on any particular day. At ACC Media Days in 2017, he said he sometimes lived with his grandmother or other relatives.
At Rocky River High School in the Charlotte suburb of Mint Hill, Alexander starred at receiver and cornerback. And yet, he didn’t receive scholarship offers from North Carolina, North Carolina State or other big-time programs.
So, Alexander went to Louisville, where he intercepted seven passes in three seasons, earned the nickname “Alexander Island” for his ability to eliminate receivers by himself, and landed in Green Bay with the 18th pick of the draft.
No wonder why Alexander got a little emotional on Friday when asked what it meant to be named Pro Bowl starter and second-team All-Pro last year at the ripe old age of 23.
“It meant a lot, you know?” Alexander said before taking a deep breath to catch his emotions. “I’m just thankful that everyone else gets a chance to see what I always thought I was. I love the love, because that’s something that was rarely [given] to me. I think it’s cool but, at the same time, it’s also humbling, because I know where I came from, so it always pushes me. I’m one, if that makes sense. I’m the ant climbing up the cold mountain.”
Alexander’s rise to elite player has been fast – and certainly faster than an ant climbing a cold mountain. In 2018, he was named to the all-rookie team. In 2019, he was named a Pro Bowl alternate. In the final four games of 2020, based on Pro Football Focus stats, he allowed 6-of-18 passing for 35 yards in the last two regular-season games and the two playoff clashes. He was absolutely superb in the NFC Championship Game with his two interceptions of Tom Brady.
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His is the first positive test within the team’s ranks since the team convened for the start of training camp in late July.
“That’s like my favorite game to watch. I made a song about that, actually,” Alexander said. Sadly, Alexander refused to share the lyrics. No doubt, they were unique.
“That game was eye-opening. Just my preparation going into that week, it really just, whew,” Alexander said. “You ever seen an ant climb up a mountain? Like a cold mountain? A real cold mountain? Hmm, probably not, huh? I haven’t either. But that’s how I felt.”
Alexander, who was limited at Friday’s practice by cramps, is a premier cornerback. Davante Adams is a premier receiver. This is their third training camp in which they’ve repeatedly squared off in 11-on-11 situations. There’s rarely a clear winner for the day. On Thursday, Adams scored a win with a deep completion from Aaron Rodgers. Later in that practice, Alexander returned the favor by smothering a back-shoulder pass.
“You’ve got to love going against one of the best receivers in the league every snap in camp,” Alexander said. “I just think it makes us better. Iron sharpens iron. Tae is one of the best. Whenever I can get that matchup, I’m drooling out the mouth.”
As Alexander gets himself ready for Year 4 physically through those matchups and mentally through daily meditation, he is considered arguably the best cornerback in the NFL. That’s pressure. And a monster contract is looming on the horizon. That’s also pressure.
But the super-chill Alexander doesn’t see it that way.
“I have strong faith in my abilities and I have a bunch of confidence,” he said. “A lot of times, I don’t really pay much attention to that stuff because I know how good I am. So, it’s never any pressure. It’s just another day, me vs. me. Just being the best.”
That was the message defensive backs Jerry Gray sent Alexander into the offseason considering. A first-time All-Pro, now the challenge was to show it wasn’t a fluke. “I’ve told him is his biggest problem is going to be him,” Gray said.
Alexander shared a unique perspective. He believes he is the best cornerback in the NFL. That confidence is good. Many other people also think Alexander is the best cornerback in the NFL. Listening to that “noise” is bad.
“Sometimes, when people get here (raises his left hand to about eye level), and the noise is also here (raises his right hand to the same level). And the more the noise interferes, then the play comes here (lowers his right hand several inches) because of the noise. So, I just plan on staying consistent. I know I’m the best, you know? I’m sure a lot of people think I’m the best. But I know I’m the best, and that’s good enough for me.”