GREEN BAY, Wis. – A little unintentionally, Aaron Rodgers is getting rookie cornerback Eric Stokes ready for the season.
Rodgers has thrown at Stokes early and often through the first six practices of training camp. Is that by request of the coaches, something former defensive backs coach Joe Whitt would ask of Rodgers? Because Rodgers wants to see what the rookie is made of? Or because Stokes has matched up frequently with Davante Adams?
“B and C,” Rodgers said on Wednesday. “I think rookies, in general, are going to get a look, for sure, a little more. Just because I wasn’t around in the OTAs, so I don’t know what he’s all about and what he’s got. A lot of times, he’s been playing right corner. We’re a right-handed – obviously I’m right-handed, so we’re often in more right-handed formations. Naturally, that puts Davante Adams, when he’s playing the ‘X’ backside and he gets the lion’s share of the targets, not just in the games but in practice, as well.”
Stokes, not surprisingly, has absorbed his share of lumps. Rodgers and Adams have made mincemeat out of accomplished veteran cornerbacks, after all.
“Every day, I know for a fact that he’s going to make me better somehow, some way,” Stokes said on Tuesday of his daily battles with Adams.
There are receivers bigger than Adams and there are receivers faster than Adams. At 6-foot and with 4.29 speed in the 40, Stokes will be well-equipped for those matchups. But there might not be a receiver on the planet better than Adams, a sublime route-runner who has answers to questions that haven’t been asked.
On Friday, Stokes was left one-on-one as defensive coordinator Joe Barry sent a blitz. The result was familiar. Rodgers fired an indefensible back-shoulder pass to Adams for a touchdown.
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“That was a pretty freaky move,” coach Matt LaFleur said the next day.
While Adams and Randall Cobb shook hands, all Stokes could do was reload for the next play.
“He’s a 99 on Madden for a reason,” Stokes said. “The first time I was going against him, I was like, ‘Yeah, man, I’m going to see what this 99 on Madden is talking about. When him and Rodgers beat me, I just looked at him like, ‘Hey, he’s a 99 for a reason,’ and just moved on.” I’m learning, I’m going to try to get up there with him because, hey, that’s a big-man score. I need that big time.”
With veteran Kevin King having missed the first week of training camp due to injury, Stokes keeps taking first-team reps and feeling the heat of trials by fire. Adams and Rodgers beat Stokes on another back-shoulder pass during a two-minute drill on Monday. During a two-minute drill on Tuesday, Adams beat Stokes deep.
“Just continue not to be scared to go up against him,” Stokes said. “Like, this is it. You’re the best wide receiver in the league. I’m trying to pick everything that I can from you and learn. You can’t be scared to mess up.”
There have been some shining moments, though, too. On Saturday, Rodgers extended the play to his right and tried to hit Adams at the sideline but Stokes was in great position and prevented the completion. He also ran stride for stride with Marquez Valdes-Scantling to prevent a deep completion.
“That’s one thing you’ve got to have: You’ve got to have that confidence,” Stokes said. “The moment you start losing confidence is the moment that your play starts dropping. And that’s one thing that I refuse to let happen is for me to lose my confidence. If I lose a rep, then, ‘All right, you got me on this one, but guess what? I’m going to get you on another one.’ So, I’m just going to keep that little competitive nature, that competitive edge on me to where like it doesn’t matter who it is, who’s in front of me, I feel like I should win day in and day out.”