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 Cay Matthews’ much talked-about 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.”
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 NFL regular-season debut, while cornerback Davon House (biceps) and safety Josh Jones (ankle) are also questionable.
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.