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Josh Jacobs, Xavier McKinney excited to join 'hungry group' of Packers

Incoming free agents also reunited as teammates from Alabama days

RB Josh Jacobs and S Xavier McKinney
RB Josh Jacobs and S Xavier McKinney

GREEN BAY – As running back Josh Jacobs and safety Xavier McKinney spoke to the media in the Packers' locker room for the first time Friday, it's obvious why they're fired up to be in Green Bay.

The former college teammates see the Packers as contenders for titles, no different than they experienced in their days together at Alabama.

"I just liked what they had going on over here," said Jacobs, the NFL's rushing champ in 2022, of signing with Green Bay. "Going to playoffs and actually competing for the Super Bowl and things like that, it's something that I've always wanted to be a part of. I told them that playoff ball is a little different and I haven't really experienced it."

Jacobs and McKinney, in a combined nine years in the NFL, have been to the postseason just once each, when Jacobs' Raiders lost a wild-card game in 2021, and McKinney's Giants advanced to the divisional round in 2022.

That's been it, and they both saw a young, up-and-coming Packers team led by a new franchise QB in Jordan Love surprise a lot of people by coming within a whisker of reaching the NFC Championship Game last season.

"It's a competitive league and you need an elite quarterback to be able to even have a chance. I believe that he is an elite quarterback," McKinney said of Love. "Obviously, I played against him and I watched him play, and I think the sky's the limit for him.

"It's going to be a hungry group, I can already tell. We've got a lot of young talent and it's going to be fun."

McKinney was part of a Giants defense that was one of the few to clamp down on Love and the Packers late last season, beating them in a December Monday night game. Despite a somewhat rough night for Love, McKinney was impressed with what he saw of Green Bay's offense in preparing for that game, as did Jacobs earlier in the year when the Packers faced the Raiders, also on a Monday night.

"I saw him make some throws a lot of people can't do," Jacobs said of watching film. "Running backwards on one foot and slinging it on a dime. Just to see the way he throws the ball effortlessly and the grit he plays with, I'm very excited to play with him."

The Crimson Tide products are also smiling about being teammates again, something they consider a special opportunity and one they never thought would happen. But they've stayed in touch and appreciate the pro and leader the other has become.

Both Jacobs and McKinney wore captains' patches for their previous teams. While there's a balancing act to seeking a leadership role as an outsider coming to a new environment while still just trying to fit in, both players expect to take that on in due time.

"Once you earn the guys' respect and they see the way you go about business on a day-to-day basis, that's kind of how you step into that role," Jacobs said. "It's not really something you ask for, it's kind of something that's shown."

The two had dinner with a group that included Head Coach Matt LaFleur and defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley on Thursday night after signing their new contracts, and they were already talking some X's and O's.

Jacobs, who is also pleased about the reunion with two former Raiders, coach Rich Bisaccia and corner/returner Keisean Nixon, admitted to LaFleur he'd like to catch the ball more out of the backfield (he averaged around 40 receptions per season in five years with the Raiders).

Meanwhile McKinney, who's rejoining a coach who recruited him to Alabama in Green Bay's new defensive pass game coordinator Derrick Ansley, discussed with Hafley lining up at various spots in the defensive backfield – deep safety, in the box, or in the slot.

"That's the plan," McKinney said of Hafley moving him around. "I cannot wait."

Offensively, Jacobs is also looking forward to being in an offense as explosive as Green Bay's was late last season, as Love and all the Packers' young receivers and tight ends began hitting their stride.

As a running back, that means defenses "can't load the box," a statement suggesting that's what he dealt with last season when his rushing yards dropped to 805 in 13 games from the league-leading 1,653 in 17 games in '22.

McKinney is plenty motivated, too, even coming off arguably his best season last year, when he recorded 116 tackles and missed only a handful, according to Pro Football Focus.

"I critique myself a whole bunch. I get better at the small things. I try to perfect my craft," he said. "That's always how I've been.

"I think even that six or seven (missed tackles) is too much for a safety. We're going to get that number down for sure."

That kind of drive and desire for both players is rooted in their Alabama pedigree, where legendary coach Nick Saban pushed for a level of competitiveness that set his program apart.

It's served them well in the NFL, and it will continue to with a new team in the next chapter of their pro careers.

"I never get complacent," McKinney said. "I'm trying to win at the end of the day, and I know what that takes to be able to win games and win championships."

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