GREEN BAY – There wasn’t time to ponder the pain last season. Kevin King had a job to do.
Banged up at cornerback, the Packers needed their rookie second-round pick to step up with Julio Jones, A.J. Green and Dez Bryant on the schedule.
So King blocked everything out – the jitters, the pain in his left shoulder, and whatever pressure a normal rookie might have felt squaring off against the NFL’s elite receivers.
For nine games and five starts, the 6-foot-3, 200-pound cornerback put it all on the line for Green Bay’s defense. He went toe-to-toe with a bevy of top receivers and threw his shoulder into tackles knowing full well the consequences.
The Packers finally decided to shut King down for the season after a narrow 31-28 loss to the playoff-bound Pittsburgh Steelers last November. King underwent surgery with renowned surgeon, Dr. James Andrews, in Birmingham, Ala., and shifted his focus to recovery and coming back stronger in 2018.
Cleared for football activity, King has picked up this summer right where he left off. Frequently lining up against Pro Bowl receiver Davante Adams, the second-year cornerback is getting back to playing how he wants to play – physical and fearless.
“Right now, I feel really good. It’s not on my mind at all,” said King of the left shoulder. “I think last year I got so used to doing things with my right hand, that even though my shoulder does feel 100 percent, sometimes I forget to even throw it because I’ve gotten used to throwing my right hand so much and doing so many things with my right hand.”
King started camp with a protective harness over his shoulder, but he’s hopeful he won’t need it once the regular season begins. While King participated in the offseason program, the Packers were cautious with his reps and still want to avoid an unnecessary setback with pads going on this week.
Sitting out of some team drills during the spring, King did everything he could to strengthen his shoulder. To bide his time, King often did push-ups on the sidelines – something his father instructed him to do dating back to when he was 5 years old.
From a learning perspective, the 2017 season was extremely valuable for King, since most rookies don’t get tested as much as he did during his 380 defensive reps on the boundary. It taught him what to expect when lining up against the Green, Jones and the best the NFL has to offer.
“I just know where I stand. I know what is considered the top in this league,” King said. “There’s always a fear of the unknown. If you’ve never gone against the best, you don’t know how good they actually are. So you don’t know how far or how close that gap is.
“You know I’m doing well against these guys, but I don’t know how much better the best are. … It just puts me in perspective of how good I can be and how good I need to be.”
One receiver who quickly became sold on King’s talent is Adams, who has seen a lot of the second-year cornerback in practice over the past year. Through the first week of camp, the two have been responsible for some of the most competitive reps in one-on-one and team periods at Nitschke Field.
King has used those opportunities to test his shoulder and try new things against a Pro Bowl-caliber talent. Sometimes he wins and sometimes he learns, but he’s never shied away from a chance to push himself. That's not always easy for a young player to do, especially in the age of social media.
"I might try to do a brand new thing against Davante. He’s one of the top three, top five receivers in the league. It may not work, but on it’s like, ‘Kevin King cannot guard Davante Adams,'" said King, laughing. "But you don’t know what I was doing. You see these clips; they don’t tell the tale of anything. It’s all about getting better. It’s like what if your notes were published to Twitter every day. It’s not my (final) draft yet. I’m not finished here. Just wait for the finished product."
Coming off his first Pro Bowl appearance, Adams believes the best is yet to come for King. It’s his expectation King not only will benefit from his own experiences last season, but also the tutelage of a veteran like Tramon Williams, who re-signed with the Packers this offseason.
“I think he has the potential to be one of the best DBs in this league,” said Adams of King. “He's got the things that you can't really teach, that size, kind of like a Richard Sherman-type build and play style. As long as he keeps working on his craft, it's going to be hell for guys.”
King’s toughness quickly won over position coach Joe Whitt Jr. and his teammates. At several turns, King became almost the last line of defense for a secondary that lost Davon House, Kentrell Brice, Morgan Burnett, Quinten Rollins and Demetri Goodson for extended periods due to injury last season.
“He’s an animal,” linebacker Blake Martinez said. “Looking at him last year, even when he had the injured shoulder and wasn’t 100 percent, he was still making plays. I think having that experience, moving into this season and being healthy, it’ll be a tremendous season for him.”
King knows it’s early. There’s still a full month between now and the regular season, and he’s competing with a chorus of talented cornerbacks for a starting role in new coordinator Mike Pettine’s defense.
Right now, he’s looking forward to his first preseason action and building more confidence in his shoulder. After playing most of last year with one arm in a press-man defense, King knows he’ll be better for what he went through as a rookie.
“I know what I’m capable of doing. It’s just a matter of going out there and doing it and doing it on the highest level,” King said. “It’s like, ‘OK, now I belong. Now it’s time to dominate. Now it’s time to pick it up. Now it’s time to do it consistently.’ It’s just doing it day-in and day-out.”