Rob Demovsky, ESPN Staff Writer
GREEN BAY, Wis. — The hooting and hollering from the other end of the locker room was so loud that it interrupted Aaron Rodgers’ session with reporters. Twice, Rodgers paused and looked to his right, where a group of Green Bay Packers defensive backs were whooping it up.
Kevin King was not among them.
King sat quietly at his locker while a group that included the Packers’ top two 2018 draft picks — Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson — went about their locker room fun.
The same can be said for what’s happened on the field this spring, where the addition of Alexander and Jackson to the cornerback position added some much-needed juice. Meanwhile, King, the Packers’ top draft pick in 2017, has been limited only to individual drills to let his surgically repaired left shoulder heal.
More than a year after the Packers picked him at No. 33 overall, they still haven’t seen King at his best. Assistant coach Joe Whitt, who tutored the cornerbacks last season before his promotion to defensive passing game coordinator, said after King’s season ended prematurely because of the injury that “you haven’t really seen the real Kevin King yet.”
That statement holds true — for now — but Whitt believes that will change soon.
“Hopefully in training camp,” Whitt said this offseason. “Hopefully he’ll be full-go in training camp. He’s been really attentive; he’s worked his butt off in the workroom. The guys in the workroom are just raving about the way his work ethic hasn’t necessarily changed, but from Year 1 to 2 you grow up, and he’s matured that way.
“He’s been in [cornerback] Tramon Williams’ back pocket the whole time learning, not just necessarily the defense but how to be a pro and how to be in the league 13 years. So he’s doing everything. He’s been in my back pocket, ‘Hey, Joe, what’s the defense here?’ Because he hasn’t been on the field, but he wants to know what every call is. He wants to communicate with myself and [cornerbacks coach] Jason [Simmons] and make sure that he understands the checks on the side so he can get mental reps each time. But you’ll see the real Kevin King come training camp.”
The 6-foot-3 King gave the Packers something they didn’t have — a lanky, long-armed cornerback suited to cover the NFL’s sky-scraping receivers. Almost immediately, however, a shoulder injury that hampered him in college resurfaced. He didn’t make it through the first week of training camp without issue. He tried to play through it for as long as he could, appearing in nine games while wearing a restrictive harness before the Packers shut him down. Despite the injury, he showed he was a willing tackler, and although he didn’t record an interception, he broke up eight passes before he underwent surgery in December to repair the torn labrum.
“I feel good,” King said. “I went to the best surgeon in the world, Dr. [James] Andrews. He got me right, so I feel good.”
Still, the Packers haven’t let King participate in 11-on-11 periods during OTA practices and probably won’t during next week’s minicamp, either. That leaves new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine still somewhat unsure of what he has in the second-year cornerback.
“It’s hard to tell at this point because I know a lot of the film from last year, that he was playing essentially with one arm,” Pettine said. “Just in talking to Joe and Jason, they think the world of him and think the ceiling is real high there. Just looking at him, it surprised me; I didn’t realize how tall he is until I met him in person. Just with receivers getting bigger and bigger — just look at the guys we’ve got to cover in practice — it will be nice to have a corner with that size and length.”
Given how limited King was last season, it seemed curious that one NFL executive already has written off King in comments to ESPN’s Mike Sando for an Insider story evaluating each team’s offseason moves. Said the personnel evaluator: “Green Bay has to take corners because they missed on [Damarious] Randall, they missed on [Quinten] Rollins, they probably missed on the Washington kid last year [Kevin King].”
The Packers brought back Davon House, who started 12 games last season, and re-signed Williams after three years away from Green Bay. Even with the addition of Alexander and Jackson, there’s a good chance King will be one of the two starters on the outside when the season opens. So far, Alexander has looked like a capable No. 3 corner in the slot.
“I think it’s going to be a big jump for him,” House said of King. “I’m excited to see what he looks like healthy because last year he was banged up the whole year, and I thought last year he wasn’t bad at all for a rookie. So I’m excited to see what he brings this year.”