GREEN BAY, Wis. — Jaire Alexander doesn’t like to sit still. That much has become evident in the first-round pick’s short tenure with the Green Bay Packers.
So imagine how difficult it was for the energetic young cornerback to have to watch last week’s preseason opener from the sideline while he nursed a groin injury.
That’s where a veteran like Davon House proved invaluable.
The eighth-year veteran played just 10 snaps against the Tennessee Titans and when his night’s work was done on the field, he went to work on the sideline. House stood at Alexander’s side often, helping the rookie see the game through the eyes of a veteran.
“I learned a bunch,” Alexander said. “Got to experience what a game is like — just trying to pay attention to the calls and the formations. See what the offense likes to run, and things like that. There were a lot of moving parts for me, so I was really concentrating on getting the play call and try to see myself in those positions.”
It left Alexander with an interesting conclusion.
“He says he can tell that the game isn’t as hard as everyone says it is — from watching it live,” House said. “Jaire isn’t a regular rookie. He’s kind of already in the flow of things.”
That may come across as cocky and perhaps even foolhardy; then again Alexander was the one who earlier in camp picked off Aaron Rodgers and started to call it a confidence builder only to stop himself and admit he has “plenty of that.”
It also could rub a veteran player the wrong way, but House said that’s not the case with Alexander.
“Everyone likes him; very likeable kid,” House said. “He’s eager, very coachable. We feed off of him. The energy he brings to the locker room, to the field when he makes plays, it’s always positive.”
There’s some merit to Alexander’s stance about the difficulty of the game, especially considering what he’s used to in practice.
“It is hard, but it isn’t as hard as what we’re going against in practice,” House said. “You’re going against A-Rod, Davante (Adams), Jimmy Graham, and then you see other teams and it’s not even close to what we go through in practice, which makes it easier.”
At some point, perhaps as soon as Thursday’s second preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Alexander will get his chance to show just how easy the game comes to him. He returned to practice in a limited capacity on Sunday but couldn’t guarantee he would play against Pittsburgh.
Until he does, expect him to be at the side of House or one of the other veterans.
“That’s something we’ve always promoted,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “It makes you proud, but that’s something our guys do a really good job of. … Our younger players closing that gap with the veteran players is vital to the success of our football team and getting ready for [Week 1 against] Chicago, and our guys do a great job of that.”
GREEN BAY, Wis. — The Green Bay Packers open training camp July 27 at their regular practice facility across from Lambeau Field. Here’s a closer look at the Packers’ camp:
Top storyline: The Packers’ revamped defense under new coordinator Mike Pettine will be under examination during each and every practice. The early returns in OTAs were strong; during one of the public practices, it picked off Aaron Rodgers twice. Granted, those were not padded practices. Certainly there will be days when Rodgers and the offense pick apart the defense, but once the pads go on, the real evaluation of the unit begins in earnest. It will be worth watching where the pass rush comes from considering that beyond Clay Matthews and Nick Perry, there are no proven outside rushers. Perhaps the addition of defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson will improve the interior rush. The cornerback position also has been revamped with the signing of veteran Tramon Williams and the addition of the top two draft picks, Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson.
QB depth chart: For now, it’s still Brett Hundley behind Rodgers. But don’t be surprised if at some point during training camp DeShone Kizer emerges as the No. 2. Hundley will get his chances to prove he’s better than what he showed last season when he made nine starts after Rodgers broke his collarbone, but the trade for Kizer (who started 15 games as a rookie last season for the Browns) showed a clear intent to upgrade the backup spot in case something happens to Rodgers again. Undrafted rookie Tim Boyle is the No. 4 entering camp.
Bubble watch: This isn’t so much a bubble watch but rather an injury watch that could turn into a major roster decision on Bryan Bulaga. The veteran right tackle probably won’t be on the field for the start of training camp; he’ll likely start on the physically unable to perform list while still rehabbing a torn ACL suffered in November. It also might be a long shot for him to be ready to start the season. If the Packers feel good about the addition of veteran Byron Bell and the depth Jason Spriggs and Kyle Murphy provide, then perhaps they’d move on from Bulaga even when he’s ready to go.
This rookie could start: Either Alexander or Jackson had better start. That’s why new general manager Brian Gutekunst used his first- and second-round picks, respectively, on the pair of cornerbacks. If Kevin King and Williams man the outside positions, then perhaps Alexander could start in the slot in the nickel package.
Running back by committee: The great thing about having three capable running backs is that if one runs into trouble or gets injured then there are options. The flip side is it could take away from the rhythm of the offense if the back changes every couple of series. So Packers coach Mike McCarthy will have to sort out how he plans to use Ty Montgomery, Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones, all of whom played the No. 1 role at different times last season.
The Philbin effect: Training camp should shed some light on what the return of offensive coordinator Joe Philbin means for that side of the ball. Philbin, during his previous stint in that job, was the perfect muse for McCarthy when it came to deciding what’s good — and more important, what’s bad — about the offense and play selection. He has the respect of Rodgers, who has already raved about Philbin’s impact.
GREEN BAY, Wis. — Mike McCarthy would love to see what Ty Montgomery can do if he’s healthy.
The Green Bay Packers coach still believes the receiver-turned-running back could be a matchup nightmare for defenses.
That’s why even though Montgomery has yet to prove he can avoid the injury bug, he appears to be set for another significant role in the offense. That much became evident during three weeks of OTA practices, in which Montgomery didn’t appear to lose any ground to emerging running backs Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones.
“We have to take advantage of Ty’s skills, and there’s no question about that,” McCarthy said. “The offense is suited for that.”
Montgomery opened last season as the Packers’ starter but broken ribs and a wrist injury ruined his first season as a full-time running back. The success he had during his midseason position switch in 2016, when he averaged 5.9 yards on 77 carries, never returned. He gave way to Williams and Jones, two of the three running backs the Packers drafted last year.
Williams showed workhorse ability, leading the team in both carries (153) and rushing yards (556). He tied Jones for the team lead in rushing touchdowns (four), although Jones played with more explosiveness and averaged 5.5 yards per rush. Both, however, battled knee injuries as rookies.
Neither has the versatility of Montgomery, whom McCarthy regularly describes as “multi-positional.”
“As far as the running backs, all those guys can play,” McCarthy said. “Ty’s had some incredible periods of play for us and just really what we’ve talked about since the day the season ended: No one has really gone the distance, so that’s why we’re a running back-by-committee approach, and we like all those guys. But yeah, definitely, Ty can play from the backfield and still has the ability to flex him out and get the matchups we’re looking for. We have plenty of that in the offense.”
The running back situation was one of several questions leading into the OTAs. Here are some answers to the others as the final part of the offseason program, this week’s three-day minicamp, approaches:
Kizer vs. Hundley: DeShone Kizer still has a ways to go to challenge Brett Hundley for the backup quarterback job.
However, a couple of things stood out about Kizer: He strikes an imposing figure at 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds, but it’s also apparent that he’s still working through some of the accuracy issues that hampered him as the Browns’ rookie starter last year.
One sign of progress came last week when he threw a perfectly placed fade to tight end Marcedes Lewis for a touchdown in a red zone period.
“He’s obviously a big body, throws the ball well,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “He’s just trying to get accustomed to our language and some of the fundamentals we teach here, but he’s picking it up great. He’s fun to have in the meetings.”
McCray and a question mark: One-half of the right side of the offensive line issue appears to be answered: Justin McCray is a virtual lock to start at right guard.
The second-year pro played all over the line last year but now has the chance to settle in at one position, and it has been a major benefit.
“The kid just keeps impressing you,” offensive line coach James Campen said. “The guy came back; he’s lived here and changed his diet. He’s been totally engaged with what coach [Mark] Lovat and the strength staff have done in that room. … The things he has done and displayed this offseason speaks volumes to where he wants to go. I think you just saw the tip of what Justin will be. The more reps and the more time he can be devoted to this profession and this just be a one-year cycle of it, I think he’s going to be a much better player.”
Right tackle, however, appears far from settled. At the last open OTA practice, Adam Pankey manned that spot with the first team. Pankey, an undrafted free agent in 2017, did not play a single snap on offense last season as a rookie. Bryan Bulaga won’t be ready for training camp — or possibly the regular season — because of his ACL recovery. Jason Spriggs is still dealing with a knee injury, and Kyle Murphy (foot) hasn’t been fully cleared. That’s why the Packers signed veteran journeyman Byron Bell last month.
Alexander, Jackson shine: The real test will come with the pads on in camp, but the Packers’ top two draft picks already have shown a penchant for finding the football.
Jaire Alexander picked off Rodgers during an open OTA, and Josh Jackson had a big pass breakup during a closed session.
“They’re talking a lot, so I’m going to have to dice them up once we get down to it,” Rodgers joked. “No, I like to see the confidence, I really do. That’s how you want your corners — to play with that swagger, that confidence. [Alexander’s] a little louder than [Jackson] is, but it’s fun to look on the other side of the ball and see those guys making plays. Now, pads are a great equalizer, so you never want to make too big of a judgment.”
Pettine’s D: One thing about new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s practices: they’re not quiet.
Pettine isn’t shy to point out mistakes, but that’s nothing compared to new linebackers coach/run game coordinator Patrick Graham. The former Giants and Patriots assistant can be heard from just about anywhere on the practice field.
“There’s a little bit of yelling at practice,” Rodgers said. The linebacker coach does a lot of yelling, actually. So that’s new, different. It’s energy, you know. It’s yelling energy, but it’s good. Change can be really good for … Anytime you’re in a situation where you’ve had the same type of things going on for a number of years, it’s nice to change it up in some positions.”
It’s all part of Pettine’s plan to hold his players accountable, something that was lacking at times under former defensive coordinator Dom Capers, according to some players.