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It’s still early, but to Mike Pettine, rookie cornerbacks Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson can be ‘exceptional’ for Packers

September 22, 2018

GREEN BAY — Mike Pettine liked what he saw from top draft picks Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson almost immediately. But the Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator didn’t realize his two rookie cornerbacks would be as good as they’ve been through two games.

“We’ve said from the beginning that the only test left for them coming out of the spring and training camp was, were the games going to be too big for them? And I think we’ve certainly gotten that answer,” Pettine said as the Packers prepared for Sunday’s game at Washington. “If you didn’t know who was who and just evaluated our defense the first two weeks, you’d be hard pressed to say that Jaire’s not potentially our top defensive player, if not (No.) 1 or 2. Just his effort, his energy, playmaking ability, he’s been outstanding. And Josh isn’t that far behind.”

Both rookies have been impressive in coverage — Alexander had what would have been a victory-clinching interception against Minnesota last week wiped out by Clay Matthews’ controversial roughing-the-passer penalty — and Jackson gave the Packers their first points against the Vikings when he recovered Geronimo Allison’s blocked punt for a touchdown.

Told of Pettine’s comments Friday, Alexander replied: “That’s pretty humbling to hear. It feels good to know that the hard work that I and we have put in is paying off. It’s a long season, and there’s going to be a bunch of bumps and bruises, but it’s pretty humbling to hear that and we just have to keep going up from there.”

Asked if it’s been as easy a transition from college to the NFL as he and Jackson have made it look, Alexander paused.

“I don’t want to sound arrogant, but it’s not as hard as I thought it would be. I say that in the humblest way,” he said. “It’s not easy. But it’s not hard.”

Defensive passing game coordinator Joe Whitt said Alexander has been more physical than he was expecting him to be, while Jackson has impressed the coaches with his ability to cover tight ends.

“I think it’s early, but I think all signs are pointing the right direction, that we feel both of these guys have a chance to be exceptional,” Pettine said. “But the sample size just isn’t big enough at this point.”

Graham talks … UW hoops?

Tight end Jimmy Graham talked in the locker room Friday afternoon and discussed his role in the offense, the different ways Chicago and Minnesota defended him — and University of Wisconsin men’s basketball?

When Badgers coach Greg Gard made his annual visit to Packers camp this summer, he bumped into Graham, whom he recruited while working as an assistant to Bo Ryan. The two talked for a bit, with the conversation ending with Gard stating the obvious: That Graham, a five-time Pro Bowler, chose the right sport.

On Friday, Graham, who grew up in North Carolina, said he really did think about playing at UW.

“I almost ended up in Madison. That’s for sure. Pretty wild. Pretty wild,” Graham said with a smile. “I remember seeing all the pictures of it in the summer and how gorgeous it was, and they were rattling off all these stats, and then I saw a picture of it in the winters. I didn’t know lakes froze.”

Graham, who hadn’t spoken with reporters since July 28, also talked a little football, admitting he was taken aback when the Bears focused so much of their defensive game plan on him and saying he enjoyed being more involved last Sunday, when he caught six passes for 95 yards — not including a 12-yard touchdown that was wiped out by a controversial holding penalty.

“It’s always nice to contribute and do your job and to be that guy that’s looked upon to make big plays,” Graham said. “I just want to come in and do my job — if that’s block, pass protect or chipping, I’m going to do it to the best of my ability.

“I’m not really sure (what will happen.) You just never know whose night it is here. (Rodgers) tells us that before every game and you just don’t know. He just finds open guys and hits them. Hopefully it will keep happening. That would be awesome.”

With the attention the Bears devoted to Graham, Randall Cobb (nine receptions, 142 yards), Davante Adams (five catches, 88 yards) and Allison (five catches, 69 yards) each caught at least five passes and each caught a touchdown pass.

“I was pretty shocked, honestly, with how (the Bears) were guarding me — taking safeties in the middle of the field, and chipping me on the line. Basically from the very beginning,” Graham said. “I was like, ‘Don’t you want to rush the quarterback?’ But that’s what I feel like I’m here for — to kind of open things up, and if the middle’s open, to punish them. And if they’re going to close it down, then it’s 1-on-1 on the outside. Tae, Cobb — our whole receiver group, 1-on-1, they’re very, very dangerous. Especially with ‘12’ getting them the ball.”

Health watch

As expected, quarterback Aaron Rodgers (knee) is officially listed as questionable for Sunday. But, coach Mike McCarthy said Rodgers will practice on Saturday, just as he did last week.

“I’m not a doctor. Based on the information, really the schedule’s going to be the same. He’s going to practice (Saturday),” McCarthy said. “That’s the goal.

“Hopefully we can get out there and have similar work that we had last week and we roll right into the game. That’s the outlook.”

The Packers ruled cornerback Kevin King (groin) out after the second-year defensive back didn’t practice all week after leaving last Sunday’s tie with the injury.

Inside linebacker Oren Burks (shoulder) is questionable but is expected to make his regular-season debut, while cornerback Davon House (biceps) and safety Josh Jones (ankle) are also questionable.

No fine

Matthews said he was not fined by the NFL for his roughing-the-passer penalty on Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins — or for his criticism of the call afterward.

Meanwhile, safety Kentrell Brice also avoided a fine — but he did so by intentionally not making a play on Minnesota wide receiver Adam Thielen’s touchdown catch late in regulation, which led to overtime. Brice, speaking to reporters for the first time since the game, explained what went through his mind as he ranged over and tried to make a play: He feared that if he went for the ball, he’d have taken out Alexander, and if he had tried to hit Thielen, he would have incurred a hefty fine.

Brice said he’d already been fined $20,000 by the league for an unpenalized hit on then-Oakland Raiders quarterback Connor Cook in the preseason.

“It’s either take a $30,000 fine on top of the $20,000 I had from the preseason and knock out Thielen, or try to go for the ball,” Brice explained. “In order to make the interception, I had to (crash into) my teammate. I’m not doing that. I’m not.

“One of us wouldn’t be playing this week if I made the play. Either I have a concussion, or (Alexander) has something wrong with his thigh or knee. Because I’m going to have to dive to make the play. … At the end of the day, (Cousins) making that throw, if you asked somebody to make that throw 10 times, they’d probably make it one out of 10. It’s just the luck of the draw.”

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