GREEN BAY – Defensive coaches will always talk about the stress points in their scheme.
Depending on certain rush or coverage calls, the stress will be placed somewhere – or more accurately, on somebody – to hold up. A double-team here means single coverage over there, or a blitz vacates an area where help or leverage might normally reside.
In Charlie Harbison's one year as the associate head coach and cornerbacks coach at Appalachian State in 2019, there was one place he never hesitated to direct the stress – on Shemar Jean-Charles.
"We put a lot of stress on him, so that way we could help other people," said Harbison, now the cornerbacks coach at Missouri, in an interview with packers.com. "He got left alone quite a bit."
Opposing offenses challenged Jean-Charles in that situation plenty, too. That's how he tallied 10 passes defended (including one interception) as a first-time starter under Harbison two years ago, and followed it up with an NCAA-leading 17 (including one INT) last season, which earned him Sun Belt Conference player of the year honors from Pro Football Focus.
In that regard, Harbison likened Jean-Charles, whom he refers to by his nickname "Sherm," to a cornerback he coached at Clemson a decade ago, Coty Sensabaugh. At 5-11 and 190 pounds, similar dimensions to Jean-Charles, Sensabaugh parlayed a high number of pass breakups into getting drafted in the fourth round by the Tennessee Titans in 2012, the first of his eight years in the NFL with six different teams.
The Packers drafted Jean-Charles in the fifth round of the 2021 draft and were surprised he was still available. General Manager Brian Gutekunst said several of the team's scouts were high on Jean-Charles and kept reminding their boss the longer he stayed on the board.
What stood out to Harbison during their one year together was how Jean-Charles was always mining for "nuggets" to improve. He'd drill down on his footwork to get it just right and study the game to be as prepared as possible for every opponent.
"He wanted to know exactly what you need from him, and he wanted to know the game plan," Harbison said. "One thing we always talked about was to study the splits of your receiver. In the first five yards of the down, it'll let you know the receiver's (route) tree. He was a student of the game."
Harbison, whose college coaching career dates back nearly 40 years at numerous big-time programs, noted he had the option of playing Jean-Charles at boundary (short side) or field (wide side) corner. He most often chose boundary, because that's where the quick throws or fades to bigger receivers would occur.
From that spot, Jean-Charles could best use his strength – he bench-pressed 225 pounds 19 times at his pro day, a very impressive number for a sub-200 pound defender – to come up and make tackles on short throws or contest fades over the top.
"He welcomed that," Harbison said of the singular duty. "Sherm is a guy that would do whatever the team needs him to do. We're on our feet, have to make plays in space and have to tackle in space, plus he has some good top end in his speed."
Jean-Charles' skills in the open field made him a regular on special teams in college, too, playing on the return and coverage units all four years after his 2016 redshirt season. Those abilities brought to mind for Harbison another of his former players, Auburn's Brandon King, who has been a core special-teamer for the Patriots since joining them as an undrafted safety in 2015.
Take a look at Packers DB Shemar Jean-Charles during his college career.
The Packers almost certainly will look for Jean-Charles to contribute to new coordinator Maurice Drayton's special teams right away while he competes for a role on defense amidst a stable of cornerbacks that has two regulars – Kevin King and Chandon Sullivan – on one-year contracts as of now.
So opportunity will knock early and perhaps even louder down the road for Jean-Charles as he makes the transition from the Sun Belt to the NFL.
"He's not selfish. He's a team guy. He doesn't mind being in the fire," said Harbison, who called Jean-Charles to congratulate him after being drafted.
"I love this young man. I'm proud of him. He'll give his all, I know that."