GREEN BAY – Trust it.
Those words echoed in Eric Stokes' head as the Packers' rookie cornerback saw the pass enter his peripheral vision during last Thursday's minicamp practice at Clarke Hinkle Field.
While Jerry Gray is still integrating Stokes into his position room, Green Bay's venerable defensive backs coach already passed along one of his most invaluable, and evergreen, lessons to his newest pupil.
Pay attention to down-and-distance and what it tells you about the route the receiver is running. And once you see it, trust your instincts to do the right thing.
During an 11-on-11 team period in the aforementioned minicamp practice, Stokes trusted his eyes when he intercepted a pass intended for receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling and returned it for what likely would've been a pick-six. His defensive teammates quickly erupted.
"From the start (of OTAs), I wasn't trusting some of the things that I was seeing," said Stokes after Tuesday's final open practice of organized team activities. "(Gray) is just telling me, 'Trust it, trust it, trust it,' so the moment I see it to go ahead and trust it and attack it.
"And that's what I pretty much did. I trusted it and I attacked it and I ended up with a pick-six."
Gray has taken an immediate liking to Stokes, a former three-star recruit who morphed into an All-SEC cornerback this past year after initially playing behind DeAndre Baker and Tyson Campbell at the University of Georgia.
As a true junior in 2020, Stokes registered 20 tackles and four interceptions (returning two for TDs) in 10 starts. The 6-foot, 194-pound cornerback's draft stock then soared after clocking a 4.25 in the 40 at his pro day.
After making Stokes the 29th player selected in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Packers now turn to Gray to get the most out of the 22-year-old cornerback. As first impressions go, Gray likes what he's seen from Stokes this spring.
"When you look at him, there were two other (high) draft picks really in front of him," Gray said. "Tyson was a five-star guy who played on one corner and then (Baker) got drafted in the first round, went to the Giants, so I think he's going to be a good football player for us.
"The first thing he has to do is understand how to play in this league. I think he has the attitude to do that."
The offseason program has been an eye-opening experience for Stokes, especially with the extra snaps afforded to him with Jaire Alexander sitting out of OTAs and the team being smart with Kevin King's workload.
Stokes did get a chance to sit under the learning tree with Alexander during the team's three-day mandatory minicamp last week, when the rookie was able to bounce questions off the ascending Pro Bowler and watch how he practices.
Stokes has had some acclimating to do as far as getting used to life in the NFL…but almost in a good way. Everything he does is centered on football these days, allowing for more time in the playbook, and yes, the occasional nap.
"First and foremost is just (learning) the plays, to where, I'm getting way more comfortable with the plays and just understanding everything that's going on," said Stokes when asked about his biggest takeaways from the offseason program.
"Secondly, me learning how to play – me learning how to read and do all this stuff pre-snap from being off (the line) because in college I was really a press (corner). Coming here it's like doing everything off-man, just getting way more comfortable doing that."
Stokes has enjoyed his first month in a Packers uniform, whether it's attending his first Bucks game or getting familiar with his new teammates. Come the start of training camp next month, Stokes hopes to build off what he's learned so far.
"I'm just trying to take it day by day to where I know for a fact that I'm improving and I know I'm getting better and learning something. That's pretty much my biggest goal," Stokes said.
"I'm going to come in here, I'm going to do what the coach asks me. If the coach asks me to do this, I'm going to do that. I'm not going to go back and forth or anything to where, I'm going to keep my head down, just keep working. That's the only thing I do know, just work."
The Packers were on the practice field Tuesday, June 15 during the offseason program.