GREEN BAY – Eric Stokes was ready to rerack for the next play after watching Jordan Love lace a pass to Marquez Valdes-Scantling during a team 11-on-11 period of the Packers' first mandatory minicamp practice on June 8.
Or at least that's what the Packers' rookie cornerback thought he'd witnessed.
Watching the play develop from the opposite side of Clarke Hinkle Field, Stokes noticed out of the corner of his eye a green No. 23 jersey flash into the play at the very last second and punch the ball out near the sideline to the roar of the defense.
Welcome to Jaire Alexander's world.
"My first impression was like, 'Hey, that dude is a freak,'" said Stokes last Tuesday. "I'm standing on the opposite side and I was like, 'Wow.' Like, 'Hey man, he's different.'"
There may be no young NFL cornerback with more buzz behind him right now than Alexander, who at just 23 earned his first Pro Bowl and All-Pro selection (second team) in 2020.
In the process, Alexander joined Pro Football Hall of Famer Herb Adderley (1963) and Willie Buchanon (1973) as the only cornerbacks in Packers history to be selected to the Pro Bowl in their first three seasons.
Alexander was lights out throughout the 2020 season, matching up against the likes of Mike Evans, Allen Robinson, Adam Thielen, Calvin Ridley and NFL offensive rookie of the year Justin Jefferson. According to Pro Football Focus, Alexander allowed just 35 catches for 337 yards and two TDs (with an interception) to opposing receivers in 15 starts.
Yet, the 5-foot-10, 196-pound cornerback saved his best for last when he picked off Tom Brady twice in last January's NFC Championship Game.
"I thought he had a great last game," said defensive backs coach Jerry Gray of Alexander. "The biggest thing that he has to do is – No. 1, I will look and say 'OK, where do you want to compete and where do you want to be?'
"I've told him his biggest problem is going to be him. Right now, you're sitting on the top of the mountain, you're one of the top corners in this league. How do you get back there?"
Alexander seems to have taken those words to heart. While he was absent during the three practices open to the media during organized team activities, Alexander was in prime form after returning for the team's three-day minicamp.
The 5-foot-10, 196-pound cornerback appeared much stronger in his upper body and was virtually impossible to complete passes on in competitive team periods.
Stokes, the 29th overall pick in April's NFL Draft, made it a point to pepper Alexander with as many questions as he could during the week the two former first-round picks spent together.
"Just trying to pick his brain apart," Stokes said. "Trying to learn everything that he does and how to get the ball out, how to do this, and then just the little things that you don't see, like what the camera won't see outside of practice, how he's constantly working out, even before practice. So I'm just watching him and learning from the best."
One of the staples of the unit new defensive coordinator Joe Barry descends from with the Los Angeles Rams was occasionally shifting All-Pro Jalen Ramsey into the "star" role in the nickel defense depending on matchups.
For that reason, there has been some speculation this offseason that Alexander could move around more in Barry's defense than he did in Mike Pettine's system the past three years.
Whatever direction the Packers choose to go, Gray has been emphasizing to Alexander the importance of taking the right steps to again be an elite shutdown cornerback in 2021.
Gray would know. In addition to being a four-time Pro Bowl corner himself, Gray has tutored of the game's top defensive backs during an NFL coaching career spanning 25 years.
"He has to be ready. He has to fight being an All-Pro right now," Gray said. "And that means can I go out there and do it again? Then people will say it's not luck; he actually knows how to become an All-Pro football player and do it more than one time."