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After keeping the faith, Corey Ballentine finds his place in Green Bay

Veteran cornerback has “answered the bell” for Packers’ banged-up secondary

CB Corey Ballentine
CB Corey Ballentine

GREEN BAY – Corey Ballentine donned five different NFL uniforms in three years before the veteran cornerback signed to the Packers' practice squad last September.

Acutely self-aware, Ballentine has always understood the business side of his sport and the tough reality facing most dream-chasers. But through every setback, every workout and every fleeting opportunity, Ballentine never stopped believing – in his abilities or God's plan for him.

Over the past month, the 5-foot-11, 196-pound cornerback has meditated a lot on his unlikely path after making four spot starts in place of an injured Jaire Alexander. Last Sunday, Ballentine tallied a career-high 10 tackles in a 27-19 win over Kansas City.

The 27-year-old cornerback has played 361 defensive snaps for Green Bay in a pinch, a sharp contrast to the two calendar years in which Ballentine didn't see a single snap on defense.

"It's kind of like my career," said Ballentine of his 2023 season. "It hasn't necessarily gone how I thought it would go. It hasn't necessarily been the clearest path. But I just have faith that everything's going to work out. I do what I can do. I control what I can control, and I try not to think about what I can't control. I put my best foot forward and somehow it works out."

Staying positive has always been the easy part. The challenge was finding an NFL city to call home. A Division II star at Washburn (Kan.) University, Ballentine was just the sixth player in his college's history to be drafted into the NFL when the New York Giants selected him in the sixth round (180th overall) in 2019.

Ballentine split his first two NFL seasons between both the Giants and Jets before being waived off injured reserve in September 2021. He finished that season with Detroit and then signed a futures' contract with Atlanta for the 2022 season.

After being among the Falcons' final cuts out of training camp, Ballentine briefly signed to Arizona's practice squad where he was introduced to Packers pass game coordinator (defense) Greg Williams, the Cardinals' cornerbacks coach at the time.

The talent was there but the timing wasn't quite right. Arizona shook up its practice squad 13 days into Ballentine's time there and he was left again searching for an opportunity.

"Corey showed good skills, the same skills that you see here," Williams said. "He was with us for a couple weeks and obviously you know how it goes. You have to make different moves at other positions and then we lost him. That's when he (came) to Green Bay on their practice squad that same year. I knew what Corey was and I knew he had a skill set."

Ballentine found a home in Green Bay, recording five tackles and forcing a fumble while playing mostly special teams. His sixth NFL stop has still required patience, including a two-month stint on the practice squad this season before Ballentine was signed to the Packers' 53-man roster in October.

In nine games, Ballentine already has established new career highs in tackles (35) and passes defensed (four). His physical playstyle has complemented rookie seventh-round pick Carrington Valentine, who has been another unexpected starter.

Playing alongside nickel cornerback Keisean Nixon, Ballentine and Valentine have combined to play more than 900 defensive snaps this season. Ballentine's performance has come as no surprise to Nixon.

"C.B. earned every opportunity since he been here, and he been showing," Nixon said. "We came in together in 2019 and I watched him grow. I don't know what it is about this 'G,' but it turns players into great players, for real."

Ballentine is the latest in a series of veteran defensive backs to have found new life in the Packers' secondary, including Nixon. A former undrafted free agent, Nixon signed with Green Bay in March 2022 after Las Vegas didn't extend a restricted tender.

The other posterchild for a career resurgence is former Packers cornerback Rasul Douglas, whom Green Bay signed off Arizona's practice squad one year earlier than it did Ballentine.

Douglas tallied 129 tackles, 32 passes defensed and 10 interceptions in 36 games (28 starts) for the Packers before being dealt to Buffalo in an October trade that netted Green Bay a third-round pick in next April's NFL Draft.

Despite numerous vacancies in the secondary, the Packers have won three straight and still rank top 10 in pass defense (203.8 yards per game).

Ballentine's readiness has helped make that happen.

"I think he's done a great job just going in there, competing," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said. "Again, bringing a physical presence to the back end that I think is so imperative. I couldn't be happier for him and for what he's done for us whether it's on defense, on special teams. He's always ready to answer the bell."

In Alexander's stead, Ballentine has maintained a starter's mindset every week in practice. As difficult as that may sound, the veteran cornerback says his unique journey prepared him for these types of situations.

With Alexander's status unclear for Monday night's matchup with the Giants, Ballentine could be in line to start against the team that drafted him. He has yet to play at MetLife Stadium since leaving East Rutherford, N.J., in 2021.

Ballentine doesn't view it as a revenge game, though, since so much has changed with the Giants' roster. The only thing that matters to Ballentine is finding a home in the NFL, even if it took a little longer than anticipated.

"I'm here. I still ended up where I was supposed to be," said Ballentine of his place in the NFL. "I really just trust and have faith that everything's going to work out and if I do what I'm supposed to do, that's all anybody can ask for, really. Put myself in a good position to make plays on the ball. When I get my chance, execute. That's really what I think about it."

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