The Green Bay Packers coaching staff values players who can play multiple roles. We have seen the team draft offensive lineman like Elgton Jenkins and Sean Rhyan who played different positions in college and they also place an emphasis on wide receivers who can line up in different positions on the field as well whether it’s outside or in the slot. Therefore, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the Packers are looking at multiple options at the “star” defensive back position for the 2022 NFL season.
The star usually lines up against the opposition’s slot receiver in passing situations. When the offense runs the football, they are often in the box and help to stop the run. The position therefore requires both speed and physicality.
Last year, Chandon Sullivan primarily filled the star position. Sullivan was not re-signed and has since joined the Minnesota Vikings. The Packers defense will now probably rotate at least four different players at the star position this year.
By not having a clear cut player lining up in the slot, the Green Bay defense has the chance to keep opponent’s guessing even if it is for just one more second after the ball is snapped. If the quarterback must quickly determine who is lining up against the inside receiver, that’s one more thing for him to worry about.
Last week, cornerbacks coach Jerry Gray addressed the issue of who would play the star and his answer was a little cryptic and not very surprising.
“Guys learn more than one position,” Gray told reporters. “We got a lot of good guys that can play in the slot. That’s the best part. We don’t have just one guy.”
Then he mentioned four possible players who could see significant time at the star position. Each of the top three cornerbacks, Rasul Douglas, Eric Stokes and Jaire Alexander, and safety Darnell Savage.
It’s a question who would best fill the position. Would the Packers use Alexander, who in the past has been one of the best boundary cover corners in the game, inside in the slot? He certainly has the speed to stay with receivers running across the field and the confidence to handle this and any assignment.
The star position would also require him to be a bit more physical and more involved against the run. Last season, Alexander was injured when tackling Steelers running back Najee Harris and the extra physicality may be a concern to the coaching staff.
GM Brian Gutekunst was confident that the former first-round pick out of Louisville could handle multiple assignments. “With Ja, he’s going to go where some of the receivers are going to go and he’s going to follow those guys in different packages. He can do everything,” Gutekunst said before the draft. “That’s a nice luxury for us to have.”
Alexander has only played a handful of snaps in the slot thus far in his career, but he is certainly capable of adding the position to his resume this season.
Savage saw more action close to the line of scrimmage late in the 2020 season but less of it in 2021 under new defensive coordinator Joe Barry. The strong play he showed in the last seven games of 2020 demonstrate that if he can get more comfortable in year two of this defense, he has the skill set to play the star. A bit more consistency from Savage would go a long way towards cementing him as one of the players covering inside and slot receivers on a regular basis.
Douglas has played in the slot earlier in his career although he was not called on to do it often in his first season with the Packers. Douglas had a surprisingly strong campaign on the perimeter last year after being signed off the Cardinals practice squad in October. He is a very intelligent player and while he doesn’t have the blazing speed of Alexander or Stokes, his use of film study and anticipation could make him successful in the slot as well.
Stokes may even be faster than Alexander. He also didn’t cover slot receivers often in his rookie campaign but that speed makes him a prime candidate to learn the position. So does Stokes’ work ethic and attitude which helped him become a success in his first NFL season when he was thrust into the starting lineup early due to injuries to Kevin King and Alexander.
The Packers have one of the most talented trios of cornerbacks in the NFL and a pair of very good starting safeties. The fact that coach Gray feels there are at least four quality candidates for the star position should give the defense many opportunities to disguise coverages and keep opposing offenses off balance during games. It also gives the Packers more options to shut down team’s slot receivers so if one player struggles in a matchup, there are plenty of alternatives.
It’s all a part of what could be the most talented defense the team has put on the field in several years.
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