GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Jaire Alexander began talking like any other player would when asked about his expectations for the season.
“Let me see,” he began recently during a session with reporters at his locker during OTAs. “I just want to have a good year.”
But before anyone could say "Who are you, and what have done with the Green Bay Packers’ supremely confident second-year cornerback," Alexander returned to full Alexander mode.
“I see myself in the Pro Bowl,” Alexander said. “I see myself as an All-Pro.”
Welcome back, Jaire.
By most standards, Alexander put together a successful rookie season for someone drafted at No. 18 overall. He played in 13 games and started 11 of them. He led the team with 15 pass breakups and made the Pro Football Writers of America All-Rookie team. His breakout performance -- a five-pass-breakup day -- came in a high-profile game against the Los Angeles Rams. It included a leaping breakup in the end zone of a Jared Goff deep ball intended for Brandin Cooks.
A month earlier, he had picked off his first career pass in the end zone during a shutout win over the Buffalo Bills.
He’s still looking for his second interception. That was about the lone issue anyone would be able to find with Alexander’s first NFL season.
“We didn’t get the ball out enough last year but this year, that’s going to change,” Alexander said continuing his series of predictions for this season. “Our front seven, we’ve got good -- great -- edge rushers. I’m not going to say good -- them dudes are coming, and that ball is going to be out a lot faster.”
Alexander knows that’s what it will take to not only get him to where he wants to go but where the Packers' defense needs to be in Mike Pettine’s second year as coordinator.
The cornerback group is about the only one that was left untouched after last season. So it will be up to Alexander and fellow 2018 draft pick Josh Jackson (second round, No. 45 overall) along with 2017’s top pick Kevin King (No. 33 overall) and veteran Tramon Williams to lead that position after general manager Brian Gutekunst focused his efforts elsewhere by signing free agent pass-rushers Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith plus safety Adrian Amos and using his two first-round picks on edge rusher Rashan Gary and safety Darnell Savage Jr.
That first-year head coach Matt LaFleur retained Pettine as coordinator and his cornerback group largely intact from last season is reason to think the defense will improve.
“I see some talented players,” LaFleur said. “I think that we definitely, again, this is a credit to Gutey, but we definitely added some key pieces. I’m not talking necessarily the back end, but we did add some in the back end, too. But those guys are really solid young players, and I’m excited to see where the defense goes. I think those guys are, there’s no doubt about it they feel more comfortable in Year 2 of Pet’s system, and I think you see it every day.”
What Pettine didn’t see last season was enough of Alexander and King on the field together. King ended his year on injured reserve, the second time that’s happened in as many seasons. What was projected to be the Packers’ top cornerback duo played less than 200 snaps on the field at the same time.
“Shoot, that’s two shutdown corners,” Alexander said. “It’s plain and simple.”
King has been limited in OTA practices while the Packers try to protect his health. He had shoulder surgery that ended his rookie season and a significant hamstring injury that ruined last year.
When King hasn’t been on the field during 11-on-11 periods this spring, Alexander has been paired mostly with Jackson and/or Williams depending on if they’re in base (two corners) or nickel (three). Jackson played in all 16 games as a rookie yet despite his nation-leading eight interceptions during his final season at Iowa, came up one pick short of Alexander’s total of one last season.
“The one thing that’s my job is to make sure with some of the success that both of them had that they don’t get complacent,” secondary coach Jason Simmons said.
When it comes to Alexander, it doesn’t sound like complacency or confidence will be an issue.
“Oh, I’ve got all the confidence in the world,” Alexander said. “Last year was a great starting point for me, but this is going to be my dog year. I’m putting my stamp on that.”