GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — For a host of rookies, the road to a spot on the Green Bay Packers‘ roster began on Friday. While what they did during the first of two post-draft rookie orientation camp practices won’t decide their fates, coach Mike McCarthy believes a good start is vital for them all.
All eyes were on the team’s top two draft pick, Jaire Alexander, a cornerback from Louisville, and Josh Jackson, a cornerback from Iowa. The practices included 11 draft picks, 14 undrafted free-agent signees, a handful of players who spent time on the practice squad last season and about a dozen tryout players.
“This is a great opportunity for these guys – and they realize it. It’s a unique opportunity, if you just look at the statistics in the National Football League,” said McCarthy, whose draft-and-develop team has long relied on rookies. “This is a very important two days, because you have an opportunity to make your roster better. And the better your 90-man roster is, the more competitive offseason program (is). Going into training camp, that’s the goal.”
Alexander, Jackson and third-round pick Oren Burks, a linebacker from Vanderbilt, are joining a defense that finished last season ranked 26th in scoring defense (24.0 points allowed per game) and 22nd in yards allowed (348.9). Defensive coordinator Dom Capers was replaced after nine seasons by Mike Pettine.
While overwhelmed at times with the sliver of the playbook they learned earlier in the day, all three were excited.
“It was quite an experience. It was like, `Man, I’m finally here. I’m at Green Bay,’” Alexander said. “There was a lot of hard work put into it, I can tell you that much.”
Added Jackson: “This is what you came here to do. This is what you went through the whole process for, to play football. For me, I’m happy for football again. I love the game and I’m just excited to be here.”
After finishing last season 23rd against the pass (236.8), 28th in third-down defense (allowing a 42.8 percent conversion rate) and 31st in red-zone defense (allowing a 65.2 percent touchdown rate), the Packers are counting on Alexander and Jackson to be ready.
The team brought back veteran cornerbacks Tramon Williams, who played for Pettine in Cleveland after spending his first eight NFL seasons in Green Bay, and Davon House, but McCarthy and Pettine want a deep, faster rotation at corner. Alexander and Jackson, along with 2017 second-round pick Kevin King, should provide that.
“I wanted to come out and show them who they drafted, give them a glimpse of who they drafted,” Alexander said. “Obviously, there’s still work to be done but I’m definitely looking forward to working on that.”
Some of the work Alexander and Jackson got came against three rookie wide receivers — fourth-round pick J’Mon Moore, fifth-rounder Marquez Valdes-Scantling and sixth-rounder Equanimeous St. Brown — in the first of what figure to be many battles to come.
“(I) just want to go up against them. Compete, get the best out of them, and they can get the best out of me,” Moore said. “See what they’ve got and sharpen each other.”
Notes: The Packers signed two of their 11 draft picks, getting deals done with punter JK Scott and long-snapper Hunter Bradley. . The team released incumbent punter Justin Vogel, who set a franchise record for net punting average last season (41.6 yards per punt).