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Previewing Packers OTAs: Cornerbacks

The Green Bay Packers' top trio of cornerbacks might be as good as it gets in the NFL. That doesn't mean there aren't significant questions with the offseason practices kicking off.

GREEN BAY, Wis. – For the Green Bay Packers, the road to Super Bowl LVII in Glendale, Ariz., will begin this week with the start of offseason practices.

To be sure, nothing will be settled during two weeks of voluntary organized team activities, the mandatory minicamp, and one more week of OTAs. Still, what happens on the practice field will set the stage for the start of training camp in a little more than two months.

This series of positional previews continues with the cornerbacks.

The Sure Thing: Trouble for Quarterbacks

With Jaire Alexander healthy again following last year’s shoulder injury, Rasul Douglas retained in free agency and Eric Stokes a year wiser, the Packers have a potentially dominant trio of cornerbacks.

In earning All-Pro honors in 2020, Alexander ranked No. 1 among corners with a 42.3 percent completion rate and 4.7 yards allowed per target, according to Sports Info Solutions. In 2021, Douglas ranked third with a 44.6 percent completion rate and fifth with 5.2 yards allowed per target. And as a rookie first-round pick, Stokes ranked sixth with a 46.2 percent completion rate and eighth with 5.3 yards allowed per target.

How rare is a sub-50 percent completion rate? That lockdown level was achieved by only 15 corners last year.

“You can’t have too many corners in this league, I’m telling you,” defensive backs coach/ passing game coordinator Jerry Gray said last week. “These guys are really good on offense and you’ve got to be able to match those guys.”

As an added bonus, that trio will provide a series of tests that can’t help but improve Green Bay’s rookie receivers. So, just like how Davante Adams helped sharpen Alexander as a rookie in 2018, Alexander and Co. will help sharpen Christian Watson, Romeo Doubs and Samori Toure in 2022.

The Big Mystery: The Slot

Alexander has the quickness and toughness to play in the slot. But that won’t be his full-time position. Let’s say defensive coordinator Joe Barry wants Alexander to follow Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson in Week 1. Jefferson sees considerable action in the slot but he’s also a big-time threat on the perimeter. When Alexander follows Jefferson outside, who will take his place inside in the slot?

Last season, with Chandon Sullivan once again handling slot duties, Douglas and Stokes each played only four snaps in the slot, according to Pro Football Focus. In five seasons, Douglas has played 79 snaps in the slot. Of course, just because a player hasn’t done something doesn’t mean he can’t do something.

For what it’s worth, Gray said he’s not worried.

“I’ll just tell them, you got that guy right there in front of you. That’s how easy it is,” Gray said.

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There’s more to it than that. These four weeks of practices, with the receiver-vs.-cornerback matchups being pretty close to full-go, will help Gray (and general manager Brian Gutekunst) formulate a plan.

Worth Watching: Backup Plans

From a May vantage point, the depth seems comparable to one of those “See Dick Run” stories from kindergarten. Whether it’s someone like Shemar Jean-Charles rising to the occasion during these shorts-and-helmets practices or a 24/7 scanning of the waiver wire, the Packers need to find at least one quality backup between now and Sept. 11.

These are the other cornerbacks on the roster (with pertinent professional stats): Kabion Ento (zero snaps in three seasons), Rico Gafford (spent first four NFL seasons playing receiver), Jean-Charles (37 defensive snaps as a rookie fifth-round pick, 7-of-7 passing), Keisean Nixon (273 defensive snaps in three seasons, 79.2 percent completion rate, 130.4 passer rating), Raleigh Texada (undrafted rookie) and Kiondre Thomas (zero defensive snaps in four games for Pittsburgh as an undrafted rookie).

Nixon, with 692 career snaps on special teams vs. 273 on defense, played mostly on the perimeter in 2019 and 2020. In 2021, he played on defense in four games, with most of his snaps coming from the slot.

“I watched his tape that he played in Las Vegas last year and (he) played really, really well inside,” Gray said. “Quick guy, does a lot of stuff, playing the slot position for them last year, and great on special teams. I think that’ll be good for us. If you’re a backup on this team, you’re playing great special teams. That’s anyone. Whoever’s a backup, you better be ready to play great on special teams. That’s the attitude we’ve got to have. If you’re competing, you’re going to be competing for a chance to play on the team but, guess what, special teams better be No. 1.”

Aaron Rodgers and the Quarterbacks

Jones, Dillon and the Running Backs

Allen Lazard and the Receivers

Robert Tonyan and the Tight Ends

Injured Knees and the Offensive Line

Kenny Clark and the Defensive Line

Gary, Smith and the Outside Linebackers

Campbell, Walker and the Inside Linebackers