GREEN BAY – Kentrell Brice always has preferred his play on the field do the talking since the hard-hitting safety first signed with the Packers as an undrafted rookie in 2016.
So while Brice didn’t draw much attention to his game-high nine tackles and a sack following Sunday night’s 24-23 win over the Chicago Bears, the third-year safety didn’t need to.
His head coach did it for him.
“I thought our secondary played very well. Kentrell Brice played outstanding,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said Monday. “We have a grading system and he clearly had the highest grade on the defensive side of the ball.”
True to form, a couple hours after receiving that praise, Brice humbly tried to sneak out of the Packers’ locker room, while a horde of media spoke to backup quarterback DeShone Kizer.
Stopped by two reporters, the 5-foot-11, 200-pound safety jokingly acknowledged he was trying to “slip out.” All kidding aside, Sunday’s game carried special meaning for Brice beyond playing every defensive snap (70) for the first time in his NFL career.
Brice felt he was on the verge of having a breakout season last year before a lingering ankle injury required season-ending surgery. Tenacious in his rehab, Brice returned for the start of the offseason program to put himself in the driver’s seat to replace Morgan Burnett in the starting secondary.
After all those hours of rehab, however, Brice’s comeback appeared to be in jeopardy when he was carted off Nitschke Field during the opening week of training camp with another ankle injury.
Fortunately for Brice, further tests showed no structural damage and he was able to return to the field after a week of rest. Starting his first game opposite Ha Ha Clinton-Dix on the back end this year, Brice picked up where he left off last year before the injury.
“It’s all a credit to God, honestly,” Brice said. “Him giving me the ability to go through the trials of trying to get myself back from surgery, and then get back and be able to do it.”
Brice originally made a name for himself as a heavy-hitter with good straight-line speed coming out of Louisiana Tech. He quickly discovered it was going to take more than speed and willpower to succeed at the highest level.
In adapting a more cerebral approach, Brice believes all of his film study and in-game experience has allowed him to get more comfortable in his assignments and play smarter. Going hard until the whistle might get you into the league, but finesse and intelligence keep you there.
Brice felt he had turned a corner with the mental aspect of the game last year, but injuries and a deep depth chart at safety limited his ability to showcase it. Since his return, Brice has made it a point to put his progress on film.
“He’s an animal,” said inside linebacker Blake Martinez of Brice. “You see him out there flying to the ball. He knows what he’s doing on every single play. He’s making sure people are in the right spots.
“It’s been awesome to see him grow. Obviously, we’ve seen his hits and his tackles. He makes his presence known. It’s been awesome.”
The unscouted looks Chicago threw at Green Bay proved problematic early in the first quarter, but Brice and the secondary settled in en route to holding Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky to only 61 passing yards during the Packers’ come-from-behind rally in the second half.
Brice appreciates his coach’s compliments and calls it a “blessing” to get the defense’s highest grade, but he already has shifted his focus to this Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings.
“It’s just a blessing to get back from surgery,” Brice said. “It was just a start for me in the first game. We’re just starting right now and just have to go up from here.”
The Green Bay Packers completed a fourth-quarter comeback in Week 1 over the Chicago Bears.