GREEN BAY, Wis. – Eric Stokes comes to the Green Bay Packers with height and speed. That’s good. He also comes with hands. And that’s not always good.
At the University of Georgia, the cornerback was guilty of six pass-interference penalties the past two seasons. Of the 16 cornerbacks selected in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft, that was the second-most.
“It’s not a concern to me,” defensive backs coach Jerry Gray said of Stokes’ overall handsy play. “I think a lot of times when you look at guys who really don’t know how to press and regulate their speed, they tend to grab.”
If desperate times call for desperate measures, Gray has a hands-on way to teach hands-off coverage.
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“I’ve got a couple of things that I’ve done in the past,” Gray said. “I’ve put boxing gloves on guys. Guess what? You can’t grab then, so you have to learn how to cover with your feet. That’s one of the things that I did. If I can get the same thing that I did when I was in Minnesota with Xavier (Rhodes), then the sky’s the limit. That’s the one thing that young guys are going to fight at the beginning because they’re used to grabbing, and I’ve got to create a new habit that, ‘Hey, look, you have to learn to cover with your feet and your hands are extra.’ Once they realize, they become better football players.”
An area scout blamed the penalties on “the lack of confidence in his ball skills” and believed that part of his game could be improved. Of note, there was improvement from a player who’s still relatively new to the position, with four pass-interference calls in 2019 and two in 2020. However, the little pulls and tugs were all over Stokes’ film.
The challenge won’t only be with Stokes. Of all drafted cornerbacks, fifth-round pick Shemar Jean-Charles was guilty of the most pass-interference penalties in 2019 (seven) and overall (10 the last two seasons).
It will be up to Gray to figure out how to eliminate what former NFL and college coach Jim Mora Jr. called “DB panic mode.”
“They feel like they’re about to get beat, so they start to grab and they start to reach and they start to shove,” Mora said before the draft. “You’ve got to drill the moment of truth – ‘here comes the ball’ – until the point where they become very confident in their ability to react the right away.
“I think you coach it out of them in terms of creating the right mind-set. But I think there’s always just a sliver of it in there and at the wrong time it can come back to haunt you. I’ve had that happen before in big games. Really good corners that you saw that flaw and it went away for a while and then it came back. That’s tough to overcome. That’s one of the things that separates the great ones from the good ones at any level and especially at the NFL level.”
Pass Interference the Last Two Seasons
Among 16 corners drafted in first three rounds, courtesy Sports Info Solutions. Total, with 2020 in parentheses.
No. 8 – Jaycee Horn, Carolina: 5 (3).
No. 9 – Patrick Surtain, Denver: 4 (0).
No. 22 – Caleb Farley, Tennessee: 4 (opt out).
No. 26 – Greg Newsome, Cleveland: 7 (3).
No. 29 – Eric Stokes, Georgia: 6 (2).
No. 33 – Tyson Campbell, Jacksonville: 3 (3).
No. 44 – Kelvin Joseph, Dallas: 2 (2). (DNP/transfer 2019)
No. 47 – Asante Samuel, L.A. Chargers: 5 (4).
No. 71 – Aaron Robinson, N.Y. Giants: 5 (2).
No. 74 – Benjamin St-Juste, Washington: 4 (1).
No. 76 – Paulson Adebo, New Orleans: 1 (opt out).
No. 99 – Nashon Wright, Dallas: 3 (2).
No. 100 – Elijah Molden, Tennessee: 1 (0).
No. 101 – Ifeatu Melifonwu, Detroit: 5 (4).
No. 102 – Ambry Thomas, San Francisco: 1 (opt out).
No. 104 – Brandon Stephens, Baltimore 5 (5).