GREEN BAY – The most likely cornerback stepping into the Packers' starting lineup in place of Rasul Douglas is rookie Carrington Valentine.
But while it's a tremendous opportunity for the seventh-round pick from Kentucky, the challenge is even harder than it would've been if, say, Douglas had gotten injured.
Because the now-traded Douglas wasn't just a veteran teammate to Valentine, but a mentor, and the rookie corner doesn't have that stable force to lean on as he takes on a much larger role in Green Bay's defense.
"I sat next to him every day (in the meeting room)," Valentine said. "I'm sad to see him go. I learned a lot from him. I appreciate everything. He didn't have to do that. But with the opportunity, just got to make the most of it."
Having earned the No. 4 cornerback spot with an impressive training camp and preseason, Valentine (6-0, 189) already has started three games as a rookie while Jaire Alexander was absent due to a back injury.
As expected, and as Valentine admitted himself, he's experienced some "growing pains … some ups and some downs." His first start in Week 3 vs. New Orleans was cut short due to a bicep injury that forced him to miss the second half. Four days later, he started against the Lions but didn't finish the game.
His most extensive action came in Week 7 at Denver, playing all 59 defensive snaps and recording eight of his 11 tackles on the season. Broncos QB Russell Wilson seemed to target him when Valentine was assigned to cover either Courtland Sutton or Jerry Jeudy one-on-one, and he wasn't exactly surprised.
"That's what's going to happen when you're a rookie," he said. "It's just something I gotta live with.
"Turn the tape on, you learn from it and you keep going."
It made for a tough day and a lesson in how the NFL works, but Head Coach Matt LaFleur saw a young player who didn't back down while being attacked.
"The one thing about this game, no matter what position you play, but especially in the defensive backfield, you'd better have a short memory," LaFleur said. "You've got to play the next play.
"I like how he battled and he kept competing. I know that he's not afraid. He'll go contest you. There's going to be sometimes that happens, especially for some of the younger players, but he's shown a lot to us … and he's a guy we've got a lot of confidence in."
If it's Valentine's starting job for now, that could change when 2021 first-round draft pick Eric Stokes returns from injured reserve. Stokes, who has recovered from the knee and foot injuries that sidelined him for the back half of last season, is now dealing with a hamstring injury that will keep him out at least four games.
Amidst all this, another corner who has moved up the depth chart is Corey Ballentine (5-11, 196), who was recently signed to the active roster from the practice squad. He would appear to be another "next man up" in this mix who learned his share from Douglas over the last two years.
"Just trust myself, really," Ballentine said. "That's kind of how he played. When he saw something, he believed it, and he also practiced hard. When you practice hard, it translates in the game."
Douglas' spirit and leadership, as well as his durability, will certainly be missed in Green Bay's secondary, and news of Tuesday's trade hit the locker room hard, particularly within his position group.
Nickel corner Keisean Nixon said he's "sick to his stomach" over losing Douglas, while Alexander emphasized it's on the entire defense to respond appropriately.
"Everybody got a reality check," Alexander said. "The best of us can be here one day and gone the next, so I think everyone got … a reality check and it was just like, 'We're here to perform.' Make plays. It's time to wake up."
Consider Valentine on alert.
"A thing we say around here is stay ready so you don't gotta get ready," he said.
"We took a blow. It stung a little bit, but at the end of the day you've got to keep going. We've still got a lot of season left to go. Sitting there and being complacent and dwelling on something isn't going to get you better."