GREEN BAY – Two months ago when they first met at the NFL Scouting Combine, they had no idea what the future held, but it’s funny how it worked out.
In Indianapolis, Jaire Alexander went out of his way to tell a fellow cornerback prospect how much he liked his game. He also told him he should have won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back.
The player was Josh Jackson.
“It’s great,” Alexander said of being teammates with Jackson in Green Bay now. “Josh is my guy.”
Jackson’s first impression of Alexander?
“Cool dude,” he said.
Yeah, it appears these two are going to get along just fine.
The Packers’ top two draft picks were brought in to rebuild a cornerback position that has been in flux for multiple years now.
Tramon Williams left after 2014 but has returned. Same with Davon House. Sam Shields’ concussion issues led to a lengthy hiatus from the game and he’s trying to resume his career elsewhere. Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins were drafted 1-2 three years ago, but Randall has been traded and Rollins thus far has been set back by injuries.
Enter Louisville’s Alexander and Iowa’s Jackson, both graded by many as first-round picks. Alexander probably would have been drafted higher than No. 18 overall if not for his 5-10 stature. Jackson lasted all the way to Green Bay’s No. 45 spot in the second round, mostly due to questions about his speed.
So they’ve both had perceptions to battle, and while those issues never totally go away, both players were clearly fired up about getting back on a football field at rookie orientation this past weekend and moving on from the pre-draft process.
“It’s a lot of anxiety,” Jackson said. “For me, I was just ready to play football, kind of get it over with.”
Their first impressions were solid. In Friday’s opening practice, both got their hands on several passes. They were tested deep by the Packers’ trio of draft picks at receiver, and they switched back and forth between the boundary and slot positions, and between press-man and off-the-line coverages.
It wasn’t perfect, as a first practice never is, but they’re off to a strong start. Except for one thing Alexander felt was missing.
“You’re going to get picks,” he said, referring to all the close calls on the pass deflections. “I definitely take pride in turning the ball over, so I’ll be doing that shortly.”
Therein lies one significant difference between the two – personality. Alexander is more outgoing, saying he got his “swag” from college position coach and former Packers defensive back Terrell Buckley. Jackson is more reserved, commenting how he didn’t see as many TV cameras at Iowa.
The contrast makes for a good match in some ways. It might help them get along.
Regardless, interceptions are their target. Alexander had five in his best college season in 2016. Jackson led the nation with eight in 2017. Their ball skills attracted the Packers to them, and now it’s up to them to maximize on those skills in the NFL.
"That's my boy,” Jackson said of his draft companion. “We're definitely here just to work hard. We came in together so we want to make sure we work hard and just push each other and push everybody else around us."
Added Alexander: “It’s cool to see him lined up across from me. We’re both putting in work fighting for the same thing.”