Sound approach is working for Kevin King

CB Kevin King
CB Kevin King

GREEN BAY – Kevin King wasn’t about to disrespect Aaron Rodgers by bragging about intercepting one of his passes in Tuesday’s practice.

After all, it was just in a seven-on-seven drill, and it was a pretty easy pick of a deep ball when the receiver turned the wrong way. So the third-year cornerback didn’t mention Rodgers’ name or make a big deal of it to the media, other than to say “he knew.”

But the play did exemplify a couple of key points as the Packers entered their second week of training camp.

One, the focus on taking the ball away more has been hammered home to every Green Bay defender after last year’s 15 takeaways tied for the third lowest total in the league.

Two, they don’t always have to come by forcing the issue. King was simply where he was supposed to be on the play, and the fact that the receiver wasn’t just made it easier. But being in position is where it starts, particularly against a top-flight QB.

“In this league, turnovers are going to come from when you do your job and they make a mistake,” King said after practice. “There’s going to be a few times where you just do it on another level than somebody else does it. But in this game, it’s bad balls, our D-line is doing (its job), the quarterback is throwing off his back foot – that’s when we have to capitalize.

“You trust your technique, do what you’re supposed to be doing, and there’s going to be plays.”

Every once in a while, a defender can take a shot, too. That’s what fellow corner Jaire Alexander did at the end of practice in a competitive 11-on-11 sequence, punching at the ball right after Davante Adams caught a Rodgers pass on a crossing route.

Alexander got the ball out, and linebacker Blake Martinez recovered, setting off a defensive celebration and a post-practice message from Head Coach Matt LaFleur that the urgency in practice still needs to pick up.

The way things have gone through five practices, the offense will get back at the defense soon enough, but it was the defense that had the edge on Tuesday.

“Yeah, that’s what I’m going to do all year,” Alexander said. “See ball, get ball.”

The important thing was Alexander’s punch didn’t put the defense in jeopardy. He was in position, and if the ball hadn’t come out, he’s still there to make the tackle.

Turnovers are not being stressed to the point of sacrificing sound technique. It’s more about ball awareness and choosing the right opportunities to make something happen.

“That’s definitely been an emphasis of this camp, getting the ball out, punching at the ball, really being a ball-aware team, offensively and defensively,” King said. “The more we do that on defense, the better they’re going to be at it on offense, not giving the ball away. Our offense is known for not turning the ball over, especially starting up top with the quarterback we have.”

Which is how King’s play in seven-on-seven showed the value of doing everything else right, because a QB like Rodgers might only give a defense one chance like that.

The Green Bay Packers kicked off another week of training camp at Ray Nitschke Field.

It was King’s second pick of camp, and he didn’t go out of his way or try to do too much on either one. Of course he’d like to have more than just the one interception in the 15 games he’s played over the first two seasons of his career – it came late in the fourth quarter of a tie game with San Francisco last October, setting up a game-winning field goal – but he’s confident if he stays focused on the right things, more plays will come his way.

“Just stay the course, keep doing my technique, keep doing what I need to do, and then I’ll look out of the break and the ball will be there,” he said. “I’m going to get it.”

Most important for King is to give himself those chances by being on the field. Shoulder, groin and hamstring injuries have limited his playing time since arriving as a second-round pick in 2017, and he was held out of all full-speed 11-on-11 work this past spring to get his body right.

He said he’s in a much better place physically because of the approach taken in the offseason, and he used Monday’s off day to prep himself for another week. King’s combination of length (he’s all of 6-3) and speed (he ran a 4.43 at the combine two years ago) is a singular element he brings to defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s coverages that is difficult if not impossible to replicate when he’s not out there.

“He’s a real talented player,” LaFleur said. “We’ve just got to keep him healthy and have him progress each day and he’s done a good job of that. I like his approach, he’s a great person, and I think it’s starting to show out there, his talent.”

That talent is best employed in man-to-man coverage, which is why amidst all the talk about takeaways, King still keeps his man as his first priority. Doing his job is Job 1 for Pettine, and he’ll let the rest take care of itself.

“He likes to play aggressive, he likes to have guys able to play man on the outside,” King said. “I think we have the guys in our room to do that, if I’m out there or not. But definitely if I’m out there, we can do that on a more consistent basis.

“I definitely want to take that role 100 percent. Everybody on the whole defense, we’re hungry, so that’s going to make us better, together.”

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