The Green Bay Packers selected Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson in the first two rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft to shore up a shaky pass defense that finished 22nd in the league. Both Alexander and Jackson have shown the big play ability during the preseason that made them so attractive to the Packers and GM Brian Gutekunst.
“They both are excellent ball hawks,” Gutekunst said just after the draft. “They find the ball, not only coming forward but with their back to the ball.”
Thus far, the two rookies are living up to the team’s expectations. “The young corners are doing a good job,” head coach Mike McCarthy said during a weekend press conference. “It’s a comfort level, communication and seeing things at this level. I feel really good about the progress they’ve made.”
The game against the Raiders didn’t have many highlights for Packers fans, but the play of Alexander and Jackson was definitely a bright spot.
Alexander made his first interception in a Packers uniform during the game. The first-round pick out of Louisville made a good read on an underthrown ball by Connor Cook and got perfect position to box out Dwayne Harris, the intended receiver on the play.
“That’s what you want. You want the pick, especially early to build your confidence up,” Alexander said after the game. “I couldn’t even see the ball. It got lost in the light. Somehow it ended up in my hands. I don’t know how.”
Alexander missed some time earlier in training camp due to a groin injury, but he has shown confidence and a positive attitude that has impressed the veterans in the Green Bay secondary.
“He’s very confident,” veteran CB Tramon Williams said of Alexander. “Obviously, he’s a guy who studies very hard. He goes into extra meetings to make sure he knows the playbook. He knows all the calls. He knows every aspect of this defense right now. As a young guy, that’s big.”
With one preseason game to go, Alexander looks like the favorite to hold down the slot corner position in the Packers nickel defense. While he has made his share of rookie mistakes, they seem to be reduced with each passing game and he has shown a definite nose for the football.
Meanwhile, Jackson has made the most of his opportunities after a slow start. He made a dramatic pick-six in the Packers win over the Steelers, then made another in Oakland that was called back because of a penalty committed by another player on the other side of the field.
The former Iowa star is starting to show why many experts believed he should have been a first-round selection.
“He has great eyes, he can see the flash of the ball, and it’s given him the ability to make some plays,” explained defensive passing game coordinator Joe Whitt. “I think his press technique has really improved.”
The biggest adjustment for Jackson has been learning how to play in man coverage without grabbing opposing receivers.
“That’s one thing that we’ve worked on,” Whitt added. “He did a lot of that at Iowa—at the top of breaks, grabbing. He doesn’t need to grab. He has good technique when he uses it. He was grabbing when he wasn’t in trouble. He’s done a nice job of working through that.”
In addition to the coaches, Jackson has made a strong impression on the veterans in the secondary. “He’s one of those guys, he’s not very talkative at all,” Williams said. “He just listens, and you can see, whatever you tell him, he’s trying to put it to test on the field.”
Last year, the Green Bay secondary allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 67.8 percent of their passes for a QB rating of 102.0. Both of those stats were the worst in the Packers 100-year history. But the addition of Alexander and Jackson gives the Packers hope for immediate improvement. That will be necessary if the Packers hope to return to the playoffs in 2018.