Countdown to Camp: Depth at cornerback must get sorted out

CB Jaire Alexander
CB Jaire Alexander

This is the eighth in a series of stories examining the Packers’ roster, position by position, leading up to training camp. The series continues with the defensive backs.

GREEN BAY – The Packers’ current 90-man roster is Exhibit A when it comes to the value NFL general managers place on depth at the cornerback position.

Green Bay has no less than 12 – that’s right, an even dozen – corners on its roster heading into training camp. The phrase “you never have enough” comes out of coaches’ mouths all the time, but probably no more often than in reference to corners.

A couple of caveats to the Packers’ stockpile, though. First, they obviously can’t keep them all, but any that prove they belong at the NFL level and can help on special teams will have a legitimate shot at a spot on the 53, because reliable cover skills will never cease to be in demand.

Second, former Wisconsin Badger Natrell Jamerson is listed as a corner but was taking a lot of snaps at safety during OTAs this spring, so training camp will indicate whether his position change is permanent, or if he’ll work at both spots.

The Packers were on the practice field Tuesday afternoon for the offseason program.

All that said, the Packers know who their top four corners are, and the competition behind them will be busy, with no set number for exactly how many will make the team.

Those top four are Jaire Alexander, Kevin King, Tramon Williams and Josh Jackson, and the Packers would love nothing more than to keep them all healthy for the long haul.

Alexander missed three games as a rookie last year and King missed 10, the second straight year he’s been hampered by injuries. Williams and Jackson each played in all 16 games, but injuries at safety forced Williams (5-11, 191) to shift there at times. The 13th-year veteran has said he’ll do whatever it takes, but he plans to play corner as much as possible this year.

His leadership is valuable for a talented young trio all drafted within the first two rounds the last two years. Alexander (5-10, 196), the No. 18 overall pick in 2018 out of Louisville, made the PFWA All-Rookie Team and looks like a potential breakout star. Meanwhile, King and Jackson, second-round picks from Washington (’17) and Iowa (’18), respectively, have shown tremendous flashes.

When healthy, King (6-3, 200) has held his own across from some of the league’s best receivers, including Atlanta’s Julio Jones, Cincinnati’s A.J. Green, and Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown. Kept out of 11-on-11 work in the spring, King needs his troublesome shoulders and hamstrings to hold up for the Packers’ secondary to be at its best.

Jackson (6-0, 196) finished second on the team in pass breakups last year with 13 (Alexander had 15, including five in one game against the eventual NFC champion Rams) and should be better for all the typical ups and downs a rookie goes through at one of the most demanding defensive positions in the game.

Behind that quartet, second-year pro Tony Brown came off the practice squad last year to play in 11 games with three starts, breaking up five passes. Fourth-year man Will Redmond also was activated from the practice squad and appeared in five games.

The rest of the corners are newcomers, beginning with rookie sixth-round pick Ka'Dar Hollman from Toledo. While his back story is an inspiring one, Hollman got due attention for a solid first impression this spring.

The Packers also added three undrafted rookies in Colorado’s Kabion Ento, Mississippi’s Javien Hamilton, and West Chester’s Nydair Rouse, plus second-year pro Chandon Sullivan. Ento is a converted wide receiver, Hamilton intercepted three passes in two years at Ole Miss, Rouse has returned to defensive back after playing linebacker his final year in college, and Sullivan played in five games last year with the Philadelphia Eagles as an undrafted rookie out of Georgia State.

At safety, to put it simply, the Packers are starting over.

The free-agent signing of Chicago’s Adrian Amos and the trade up to draft Maryland’s Darnell Savage with the No. 21 overall pick in the first round provide two brand new starters after a revolving door of players manned the position a year ago.

Amos started double-digit games each of his four years for the Bears and will be counted on as a key communicator for defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. Savage, a speedster who picked off seven passes over his last two college seasons, didn’t blink when thrown in with the first-string defense from the get-go.

How the depth chart at safety shakes out after that is unknown, as the Packers will be looking for reserves who can help on special teams and also potentially play a hybrid linebacker role in some of Pettine’s sub-packages.

Among the returnees, former second-round draft pick Josh Jones skipped voluntary OTAs before returning for mandatory minicamp, but sitting out due to injury. Raven Greene, who made the team as an undrafted rookie from James Madison a year ago but ended the season on injured reserve (ankle), came back for his second season with a rebuilt body.

Also back is Jamerson, claimed off waivers from Houston last December, and Tray Matthews, a practice-squad holdover. As mentioned, Jamerson was taking a lot of reserve safety snaps this spring in Jones’ absence. Matthews was a three-year starter at Auburn and came to Green Bay, his third team, late last season.

New to the group is second-year pro Mike Tyson, claimed off waivers from Houston in May. Originally a sixth-round pick by Seattle in 2017, Tyson has spent time on both the Seahawks’ and Texans’ active rosters, playing in 10 games for Houston last year.

COUNTDOWN TO CAMP SERIES

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