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What to expect from Packers secondary vs. Bengals

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Injuries and poor play has the Green Bay defense scrambling to establish roles.

NFL: Green Bay Packers-Practice
Kevin King and Josh Jones will get a chance to prove their belong in this defense long-term.
Green Bay Press Gazette-USA TODAY NETWORK

Before Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth had even had a chance to get lathered up over an NFC Championship rematch last Sunday, Kevin King had taken over as Dom Capers’ outside corner.

Davon House opened the game on the outside with Damarious Randall opposite him. By the second quarter it was the rookie from Washington playing on the boundary, with Quinten Rollins in the slot.

King, as has been discussed at length this week, played well enough to keep his job. Expect him to be the outside corner, and potentially the No. 1 corner, this week against the Cincinnati Bengals.

But that’s not the only reshuffling that will take place this week.

Davon House ultimately left the Falcons game with a quad injury, one that has kept him out of practice all week. It was Randall — not Rollins — who replaced House outside, a telling move given Rollins continued to play in the slot after Randall got the hook in favor of King.

Are you following so far?

Through two weeks, we can conclude the Packers don’t view Rollins as a boundary corner. That will be House when healthy, King, and Randall.

With House likely unavailable this week, that means King and Randall getting the call on the outside and Josh Hawkins likely to get some work at some point, as he did late in the game against the Falcons.

A brief aside: It may be worth seeing if Hawkins can man the slot for Green Bay. At 5’10’’ 183 pounds, Hawkins doesn’t have the body Joe Whitt prefers outside, but he does have smooth athletic ability and speed. Given the athletic limitations of Rollins, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Packers give Hawkins the chance -- something Mike McCarthy said he’d earned in the preseason, only to see King jump him on the depth chart for reasons that remain unclear — to play in the slot.

Green Bay can expect some growing pains for the rookie King, but if he can handle Julio Jones and A.J. Green, he’s up the task of just about any receiver in football.

But that’s not the only place in the secondary where there are questions about who will/should be playing and where.

Kentrell Brice’s injury plunged rookie camp standout Josh Jones into the mix. Somewhat surprisingly, Capers employed Jones more as a deep safety than the kind of in-the-box chess piece they described the N.C. State rookie as in the offseason.

Was that a function of the gameplan? Was it concerns over Jones not being ready? We may have some insight into the thought process based on where Jones plays Sunday.

Theoretically, Morgan Burnett knows everything he needs to do as the safety opposite Haha Clinton-Dix. He’s the one playing out of position as the Nitro linebacker.

Doesn’t it make the most sense to put Jones in Burnett’s spot at linebacker? He’s bigger, stronger, and more experienced playing in the box — something he did almost exclusively at N.C. State.

In fact, Justis Mosqueda recently pointed on the Acme Packing Company podcast that Jones played almost like an edge defender in college. That’s the kind of player a team looking to play small needs in the box.

Atlanta crushed Green Bay’s small boxes a week after Seattle struggled with them. Cincinnati’s offensive line is a mess near on par with Seattle’s, which means going small could work again this week.

But it also presents the perfect opportunity to get Jones in the game where Green Bay wanted to play him all along.

Let the rookie play the position he’s practiced all offseason, and the veteran make the position switch — which is really just a switch back to his old position.

Confused yet?

Fundamentally, the defense won’t change much.

In some ways, the injury to Brice could set up the Packers to be the team their personnel has them best-suited to be.

Jones always should have been the defensive back playing linebacker in the Nitro package. And Burnett is the versatile safety who can cover in the slot or deep on the back end.

Likewise, Kevin King is the most physically talented corner on this roster. House’s injury and the poor play of Randall/Rollins open up the door to prove he can be a No. 1 corner. He’ll get more than just an opportunity to play that role — he’ll be tested by one of the best receivers in the league.

The chance to test these rookies against an offense that has been terrible, but that still has some talented players, presents the ideal situation to create the best version of this defense.

We’ll have to wait until Sunday to find out how the Packers want to approach the restructuring of the secondary, and whether or not that new-look secondary needs to be reshuffled yet again in order for this Green Bay passing defense to succeed.