Before the pads come on, the only thing coaches can judge in minicamp exists between the ears. Are these players picking up the scheme? Are they learning? And are they playing with confidence?
Packers coaches (and fans) should apparently breathe easy given where these rookie cornerbacks are in June. That can all change once training camp rolls around, but for now, new passing game coordinator Joe Whitt Jr. likes what he’s seen from Josh Jackson and Jaire Alexander.
“He’s constantly in that meeting room; he might be in that meeting room right now” Whitt says of Jackson. “He studies as much as any rookie we’ve ever had. He asks really good questions, he can play multiple positions, and then he is sticky. He understands concepts. He can get in and out of breaks. When he makes a mistake, he doesn’t make that same mistake again. I’ve been very pleased with him.”
But just studying isn‘t enough. Jarrett Bush was a relentless worker, but lacked the physical tools to ever be a contributing player. Whitt says he’s seen the instinctive playmaking skills from Jackson already to go along with athletic ability.
“He can hold vertical control, and he has gotten his hands on a number of balls, either getting interceptions or knocking them down.”
And although Jaire Alexander was the first-round pick, he’s fallen under the radar among Packers fans who were so excited to get Jackson, a favorite first-round target for many. But Alexander has been the one who got the first big pick, with an interception off Aaron Rodgers.
Whitt loves Alexander’s demeanor on the field. Again, without pads, the things coaches can evaluate becomes limited, but that mental makeup, the way a player approaches the game can be readily seen in OTAs and minicamp.
“He’s a good kid. I think he’s doing a nice job,” Whitt explains. “He’s a confident kid but he’s not a cocky kid. I was somewhat worried about, is he going to be cocky? But he’s not cocky. You want real confidence out there, and I think he’s a real tough kid.”
Practices in May and June won’t tell us much about these players, but you want to see them hitting touchstones. These are checkpoints are rookies to see where they are mentally. If they’re smart enough to pick up the scheme and confident enough to go execute it, that’s checking off the first and only boxes they can check.
We’ll learn a lot more about how much they can contribute in 2018 once the pads come on.