Jerry Gray looking for 'smooth transition' as play-caller for Packers' defense

Green Bay counting on a “collective effort” without coordinator Joe Barry

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Defensive backs coach/passing game coordinator Jerry Gray

GREEN BAY – When the Packers hired Jerry Gray to lead the team's secondary last year, Head Coach Matt LaFleur knew he was getting more than just a position coach.

Green Bay also was gaining an established leader with more than 25 years of NFL coaching experience, eight of which came as a defensive coordinator in Buffalo (2001-05) and Tennessee (2011-13).

The Packers will lean on Gray's expertise Thursday night against the Arizona Cardinals, with coordinator Joe Barry unable to coach following a positive test for COVID-19.

While Barry formulated the defensive game plan and coached remotely over Zoom this week, Gray will serve as the play-caller with inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti relaying those calls to De'Vondre Campbell on the field. Gray and Olivadotti previously coached together in Washington from 2006-09.

"I want it to be a smooth transition situation," Gray said. "The good thing is Kirk and I have worked together in Washington, we understand each other. He understands the front and I understand the back end. So, if I say one thing, he knows, 'OK, Jerry let's go ahead and put this together.'

"We're getting ready to play fast."

While it's not ideal to have to make a significant adjustment on a short week, the Packers' defensive coaches were already back in the building Sunday night following the team's 24-10 win over Washington and building their plan for the Cardinals.

They also have past experience being shorthanded from earlier this season when defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery was unable to coach against the Detroit Lions in Week 2 due to COVID-19 protocols.

In Montgomery's absence, Olivadotti, outside linebackers coach Mike Smith and defensive quality control coach Wendell Davis divided Montgomery's in-game responsibilities. The Packers beat the Lions 35-17 to begin their current six-game winning streak.

When it comes to play-calling, the Packers couldn't have asked for a better coach on standby than Gray, whose 2003 and '04 Bills defenses ranked second in total yards in back-to-back seasons.

Since coming to Green Bay, Gray has overseen the maturation of All-Pro cornerback Jaire Alexander and the development of a young secondary. The group finished seventh in pass defense last year and is currently ranked sixth in 2021 despite Alexander and Kevin King missing seven combined games this year.

"I think he does a great job of mentoring all those players in that room in terms of what it means to be a pro and how to get the most out of your career," LaFleur said.

"He's a guy that I kind of lean on at times as well, just to get his advice on certain things. So, we're very fortunate to have him part of this organization and part of this coaching staff."

Gray said a determination hasn't been made on whether he'll coach from the sidelines (like he did in Buffalo) or the coaches' booth (like he did in Tennessee), but assistant defensive backs coach Ryan Downard will be assuming some of Gray's game-day responsibilities with the secondary.

The Packers have a tall task ahead of them against the unbeaten Cardinals, whose quarterback, Kyler Murray, has played at an MVP level so far this season. The former No. 1 overall pick has thrown for 2,002 yards and 17 touchdowns while completing 73.5% of his passes for a 116.8 passer rating.

Both LaFleur and Gray pointed out this week how it's going to take every member of the Packers' locker room to topple Arizona from the rank of the unbeatens. If successful, it won't be because of one specific player or coach.

"Somebody has to call the plays and I was fortunate enough to be that guy, but the big thing is we got to let our guys know, 'Hey, this is going to be a collective effort,'" Gray said.

"It's not going to be Jerry's show. It's going to be Jerry Montgomery, it's going to be Mike Smith. It's going to be R.D. (Downard). It's going to be K.O. (Olivadotti). Head coach wants to chime in, hey, we want to win the football game."

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