Sat, 19 Sep 2020

Packers’ No. 1 cornerback was Pro Bowl alternate his second season in 2019 Mike Spofford

GREEN BAY - Through his first two NFL seasons, the trajectory has been obvious.

Jaire Alexander has gone from an up-and-coming first-round draft pick to a PFWA All-Rookie selection to a true No. 1 cornerback and a Pro Bowl alternate.

What's next is what everybody is waiting to find out, and Alexander has every intention to keep his career arrow pointing up.

"I feel like this is the most confident I've been in my technique and in my game," Alexander said in a media session Monday. "I'm just ready to embark on this Year 3."

Never a self-doubter, Alexander said his brimming confidence in 2020 stems from entering a third year in defensive coordinator Mike Pettine's system.

That's now combined with a fast-developing relationship with new defensive backs coach Jerry Gray, a four-time Pro Bowl player in his day and accomplished veteran coach who told all his charges during spring virtual meetings that he can "get them where they want to go" if they put in the work.

It's a message Alexander has embraced, and he's tapping into Gray's fountain of knowledge every chance he gets.

"I mean, it's endless," Alexander said. "I could listen to Coach Gray talk the whole time about ball because there's things he's opened my eyes up to that I've never even realized or noticed. Just my mental approach is night and day from last year."

Physically he's ready, too, having credited former teammate and veteran corner Tramon Williams with helping teach him how to take care of his body. He'd like a career as long as Williams', and he kept up a rigorous workout schedule through pandemic-related shutdowns by using meditation and watching less TV.

It also helped him to end the 2019 season on a strong note, the Packers' rough loss in the NFC title game in San Francisco notwithstanding. Alexander felt in the postseason last winter, he was playing at his best personally.

For a player who has routinely taken on the assignment of the opponent's top receiver and never backed down - he has led the Packers in passes defensed each of his first two years, with 15 as a rookie and 23 last year - cranking up his game with the season on the line was another important step he wanted to take.

"I like that I was able to turn that focus over when the games really mattered and really lock in on my coverage and just prove that I am elite in this league," he said. "So I think that was the biggest takeaway, that I can do those things and when I lock in and when I master my craft, the sky is the limit."

The biggest thing missing from his list of accomplishments is more interceptions. He's had just three over his first two seasons.

His answer to a question about how to get more ("Just catch the ball") would indicate he believes he's had the opportunities and just has to cash in.

It may not be that simple, but in any event, Alexander is clearly next in line as the front-line guy for a defense that over the last 15 years has seen top-notch cornerback play from the likes of Al Harris, Charles Woodson, Williams and Sam Shields.

"I've been born ready," Alexander said of assuming that role. "It's just that unwavering belief I have in myself."

The Packers' confidence in their young, budding star is just as steadfast.

Head Coach Matt LaFleur always speaks about the infectious energy Alexander brings to the defense and the entire team, while General Manager Brian Gutekunst believes he's among the league's top corners already.

At such a premier position, where he goes from here could have an outsized influence on the Packers' entire defensive backfield, if not the defense as a whole.

"He's just getting started in his career," Gutekunst said. "He has so much in front of him."

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