Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur met with the press in Arizona on Tuesday during the NFL’s owners’ meetings. There, LaFleur spoke candidly about the team’s plan for their 2023 secondary.
LaFleur stated that cornerback Rasul Douglas will remain as an outside corner going into the season and not a safety, where he spent a few practices last summer when a cluster of injuries impacted the Packers’ safety depth. He said that Douglas “is capable of [playing safety],” but that his “best position” is cornerback.
The idea of Douglas playing safety in 2023 has been floated around ever since 2019-2022 starter Adrian Amos hit the open market. It was assumed that Jaire Alexander and 2021 first-round pick Eric Stokes would start at the cornerback position, which would leave Douglas fitting in as either a slot or safety when the group is healthy.
LaFleur also noted that Darnell Savage, who was benched for Rudy Ford for a period of time in 2022, will start at safety. This isn’t a shock, but it’s worth noting that Savage’s $7.9 million cap hit for his exercised fifth-year option remains one of the highest salaries on the team. Green Bay could free up a decent amount of cap space by packaging his salary with a draft pick to have that number cleared off their books, but, apparently, that’s not in the cards.
Per Packers.com’s Wes Hodkiewicz, the fifth-year head coach also said Green Bay “will give Keisean Nixon every opportunity to lock down the nickel.” Nixon, a First-Team All-Pro kick returner who re-signed on a one-year deal, played over 70 percent of the defensive snaps from Week 12 to Week 15 last year before an injury limited him to returns.
So if Alexander and Douglas are playing outside, Nixon is playing the slot and Savage is playing safety, where does that leave Stokes? According to ESPN’s Rob Demovsky, LaFleur claimed that the Packers are going to play the former first-round pick “as soon as possible,” which Demovsky interpreted as Stokes being a question mark for the start of the regular season. Stokes — who missed most of last season with an ankle injury — has previously been reported by Sports Illustrated’s Bill Huber as “on track” to practice for the start of training camp in July.
“Eric has had zero setbacks and is ahead of schedule,” a source said. “He plans to be in Green Bay for the offseason program to continue his rehab and training. There is no set timetable for him to be back at 100 percent, but he is not expected to miss any portion of camp.”
To say the least, losing Stokes for a calendar year (or more) would be disappointing.
If LaFleur is being truthful about his secondary, the two things to monitor moving forward are:
- Who is going to start at safety opposite of Savage
- Stokes’ recovery
If Stokes is healthy, he’s starting as an outside cornerback, meaning either one of Douglas or Nixon will have to move to the bench (Nixon) or the safety position (Douglas.) The question is will Ford be the Week 1 starter next to Savage or will the Packers spend a high draft pick on one of the top safeties in this upcoming draft class? If the answer is Ford, there’s a better chance of Douglas converting to safety once Stokes is healthy enough to be on the field.
At the end of his conversation in Arizona, LaFleur dropped in a fun tidbit for the Nixon fans out there: They’re working on a package for him on the offensive side of the ball. I guess when you’re averaging 29 yards per return, the team is going to manufacture more ways for you to get the ball in your hand.