GREEN BAY – There’s still no definitive answer.
Even one day later after viewing the film, Head Coach Matt LaFleur still wasn’t sure whether Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander drew an offensive pass interference on receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling on his diving touchdown catch to end the first-team two-minute drill on Wednesday. Or if Valdes-Scantling just used a great adjustment and superb body control to lay out and make the play.
“I can’t wait to see how they officiate those,” LaFleur said after Thursday’s no-pads practice at Ray Nitschke Field, a half-speed workout to give the players a break before cranking it up for Family Night on Friday.
What isn’t in dispute is Alexander’s coverage on the play, which was as good as it gets on a go route down the sideline against a speedster to whom he surrenders six inches (5-10 vs. 6-4).
Controversial end result or not, it was the kind of play the Packers are going to rely on from Alexander, who has never shied away from any coverage assignment since arriving as a first-round draft pick in 2018.
Whether he or Kevin King is tasked with the opposing team’s top target will be up to defensive coordinator Mike Pettine and the matchups he’s looking for, with King at 6-3. But King was sitting out that two-minute drill Wednesday, so Alexander took on the taller man in a clutch situation.
Alexander hasn’t commented to reporters about the memorable play, but he was audibly pleading his case with the practice official as the offense celebrated its big touchdown. The intensity, passion and conversation were all classic Jaire, who told reporters in the spring he’s gunning for Pro Bowl and All-Pro status.
“I love everything about Jaire,” LaFleur said. “I love the way he competes. He brings so much energy on a daily basis, and I think the future is bright for him. I think he’s going to establish himself before long as one of our leaders on defense.”
That’s heady praise for a player going into just his second season, but on a revamped defense and with a new head coach, if there are norms to be changed, now’s the time.
Alexander’s ebullient personality lends itself naturally to a leadership role, and there’s only one true veteran at his position group in Tramon Williams, so progression in that area could come naturally. But there’s a lot more to it than just being vocal and outgoing to become a leader, and his teammates see the potential for that complete package.
“Well, you make plays first,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said of how young players become leaders. “That’s how you get the guys to respect you, listen to you. You play through injury, you play through adversity. They’re always watching. And then you get opportunities and you speak up when it’s meaningful and when it’s authentic.
“I think he has the opportunity because he’s a very talented guy, he’s made plays. He doesn’t have fear out there. He doesn’t have that ‘itis’ where you’re a little scared when the big-time receiver comes to town and you don’t want to play or you’re scared to get beat. He doesn’t have that. He looks for those challenges.”
He’ll get another one next week with Houston receiver DeAndre Hopkins in town for two days of practice. The defense as a whole, which Rodgers has noted repeatedly has a “juice” to it he hasn’t seen in a while, may start to see its leaders step to the forefront more with a fresh opponent on the other side.
Rodgers said other veterans such as inside linebacker Blake Martinez and free-agent outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith are taking on larger leadership roles as well, so it’s not falling on one person in the first year the Packers have moved on from former leaders like Clay Matthews and Mike Daniels.
“There’s natural leadership opportunities for anybody on defense,” Rodgers said. “What I’ve seen is ‘50’ stepping up and taking a bigger role and then both the Smiths, it’s very natural for them. ‘Z’ is kind of a scary guy just looking at him. Walking in the door, he has that clout, as Julius Peppers did, where there’s a healthy, ‘I’m not going to cross that person.’ They have natural opportunities when they open their mouth to be leaders, and they’ve taken advantage of that.”
Mostly with Alexander, he’s just being who he is. Receiver Davante Adams said it isn’t long after practice every day before Alexander is coming up to him with his iPad, going over the film of their snaps against one another, asking questions about moves and thought processes.
He’s not looking to see if anybody’s watching, because that’s not why he does it, but there’s a good chance someone’s noticing.
“When I see him go about his business like that, it makes me excited to be on the same team with him,” Adams said.
“I’ve spoken highly of Jaire since he first got here. I like the way the kid operates. He walks around with his headphones on during the day and he’s locked in. He doesn’t show up to work like it’s just another job. He takes it serious.”
Whether he gets the practice official to call it his way or not.
Take a look at photos of training camp practice before the Packers head to Lambeau Field for Family Night.