OAKLAND, Calif. – Tramon Williams has been around a lot of talented young cornerbacks during his 12-year NFL career, and in his experience, there’s one overriding quality that allows rookies to contribute early on.
Don’t make the game bigger than it is.
When the Packers veteran cornerback looks at Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson, Williams sees two budding playmakers who fit that qualification to a T.
Despite a 13-6 preseason loss in Oakland on the scoreboard, Green Bay’s first two picks in the 2018 NFL Draft were at it again inside the Oakland Coliseum on Friday night.
While Jackson nearly came away with his second pick-six in as many games, Alexander notched his first pro interception off Raiders quarterback Connor Cook in the second quarter.
“Both of these guys, they respect the game as much as possible, but they fear nothing about it,” Williams said. “That’s the approach you have to take to this game because you’re going to face some tough battles week-in and week-out. If you fear those battles, you’re always going to come up on the short side of it, but if you embrace those battles, you have a chance.”
Coming off a groin injury, Alexander only played 10 defensive snaps in the slot during his preseason debut last week against Pittsburgh. Against the Raiders, Alexander started opposite Williams as a boundary cornerback in the Packers’ base defense.
The 5-foot-10 cornerback had his “welcome to the NFL” moment on the very first play of the game when Derek Carr completed a 49-yard pass to Amari Cooper through Alexander’s coverage.
The rookie didn’t panic. Going back to the sideline after a 32-yard Mike Nugent field goal, Williams could tell Alexander was going to be OK based on how he was conducting himself.
So when Cook left a pass intended for Dwayne Harris inside on a post route in the middle of the field in the second quarter, Alexander made him pay for it.
“That’s what you want. You want the pick, especially early to build your confidence up,” Alexander said. “I couldn’t even see the ball. It got lost in the light. Somehow it ended up in my hands. I don’t know how.”
A week after picking off Steelers backup quarterback Josh Dobbs and returning the interception for a 22-yard touchdown, Jackson nearly did the same thing when he jumped Seth Roberts’ out route and intercepted Cook for a 38-yard touchdown.
However, the play was nullified due to a defensive holding penalty on Herb Waters away from the ball on the other side of the field. Still, Alexander jokingly said the Packers will count it.
A second-round pick out of Iowa in April, Jackson has put himself in position to contribute as a rookie based on the versatility he’s demonstrated throughout camp and the significant strides over the last month.
While the interception technically was taken away, it’s those type of plays that reiterate to Jackson he’s doing the right things.
“It’s really about getting into my groove,” Jackson said. “I’d say the first couple weeks it’s trying to get back into the way things operate. I’m feeling comfortable, I’m feeling confident. I’m feeling like I have a good understanding.”
There were plenty of reps available to both rookies with Williams only playing the opening series, and Kevin King (shoulder) and Davon House (hamstring) sitting out. Knowing the value of these reps, both young cornerbacks hope they pay off once the games begin to matter.
“It put a staple on what I’ve already been working to get to,” said Alexander, who also handled punt returns Friday. “It lets me know I can play with these guys out there.”
Back for Moore: J’Mon Moore got the bounce-back performance he was looking for after an up-and-down showing last week against Pittsburgh.
The Packers’ rookie receiver caught four passes for a game-high 62 yards against Oakland, including a difficult 27-yard catch from DeShone Kizer late in the fourth quarter.
Moore knew he’d likely have to weather a hit from the closing safety Quincy Mauger on the play, but made the catch and held onto the ball through contact. The play wound up turning into a 42-yard conversion after Mauger was flagged for unnecessary roughness for contact to the head area.
It was the type of outing Moore felt he needed to pull out of a recent funk with catching passes in practice and in the preseason.
“I definitely had some confidence back being out there and getting started early, making some plays,” Moore said. “I definitely needed that. It definitely can be a jumpstart so I could start making plays on a more regular basis.”
Moore spent extra time this week at practice working with the JUGS machine in an effort to pull himself out of a little funk. While the rookie fourth-round pick admits he still has a way to go, Friday night was a step in the right direction.
“That’s part of life. That’s part of playing this game,” said Moore, who leads all Green Bay receivers with seven catches this preseason. “Adversity is going to hit eventually and you have to have the answers for it. I’ve just been working, staying as positive as I can and letting the past go. Moving forward.”
Late adjustment: Undrafted rookie Greer Martini was thrust into the starting lineup after third-round pick Oren Burks was a late scratch after injuring his shoulder during warmups.
Like the first two preseason games, Martini rotated with Ahmad Thomas next to veteran inside linebacker Blake Martinez in the first half.
“Obviously it opens up opportunity and you have to take advantage of that opportunity,” said Martini, who finished with three tackles and recovered an E.J. Emanuel fumble in the second half. “When I was told ‘OB’ is not going to be starting and you have to fill in that role, it wasn’t like panic for me. It was, ‘Let’s have a calmness. Let’s go out there and execute.’”
Martinez played the entire first half, but said the plan all along called for a majority of the defensive starters to play the first two quarters.
Martinez was surprised as anyone when Burks informed him something happened to his shoulder in pregame, but took a similar approach with Martini, Ahmad Thomas and the rest of the Packers’ young inside linebackers that he did when Jake Ryan tore his ACL earlier this month.
“It was out of nowhere,” Martinez said. “All of a sudden he was like, ‘Oh, my shoulder hurts.’ Next thing you know, I guess he’s not playing. It’s one of those things – you kind of roll with the punches and next guy up. I just told everybody, ‘Hey, same situation. You have more opportunities. Now, it’s time to shine when you get those opportunities.’”
Friendly face: While several Packers took time in the pregame warmups to say hello to Jordy Nelson, Williams got to see the former Green Bay receiver up close and personal.
The two veterans lined up across from each other during the Raiders’ first series.
“It was good seeing him,” Williams said. “To play so many years with him, it’s like playing against a brother. I thought they were going to throw him more balls, I was covering him for most of the time, but thought they were going to try to get him a couple passes because it’s against Green Bay. He didn’t get any, but I was glad to see him come out healthy.”
Reggie, Reggie: Packers linebacker Reggie Gilbert pushed his preseason sack total to 3½ when he backed Pro Bowl right tackle Donald Penn into Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, forcing a fumble and 10-yard loss on third-and-4 on the game’s opening drive.
The sack forced the Raiders to settle for a field goal.