GREEN BAY - If the Green Bay Packers envision rookie Kevin King as their No. 1 cornerback of the future, he will have gotten his start from a symbolic location inside Lambeau Field: Sam Shields’ old locker.
Of course, Shields was the last true alpha the Packers had at the cornerback position. When his career ended with a concussion in Week 1 of the 2016 season, a long and unresolved search for his replacement began.
General manager Ted Thompson hopes King might by the answer. By selecting King with the 33rd overall pick in this year’s draft, the Packers made clear their tepid confidence in Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins. It can be argued that King is the odds-on favorite to win a starting spot this season, and that audition began Friday at rookie orientation.
“I didn’t even think of it like that,” King said. “I’m out here trying to earn it just like the other guys are. I don’t put myself on a pedestal, I don’t think there’s no more pressure on me. Regardless of that I’m going out there and I’m doing the best that I can. I’m ready to learn the same as everybody else.”
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But whether he likes it or not, King attracted plenty of eyeballs Friday inside the Don Hutson Center. He stands out as both the highest pick in this year’s draft class and the most obvious physical specimen among the rookie corners: 6-foot-3, 198 pounds, long arms.
“It was a great experience,” King said. “Being out there with the other guys, kind of this first experience of actually being on the field in an NFL setting, it’s a little different, just kind of nerves and everything. But once you get settled down it’s all just football.”
With rookie orientation consisting of draft picks, undrafted free agents who signed with the Packers and nearly two dozen tryout hopefuls, it’s nearly impossible to glean anything of substance from the first open practice of the season. The pace is rapid and the drills can be chaotic with so many players trying to make a splash.
Nonetheless, King earned the praise of cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt Jr. during his first rep of the one-on-one drill against wide receivers. King, paired with rookie seventh-rounder Malachi Dupre, played textbook press coverage and flashed impressive physicality at the top of the route. He got his hand on the football to disrupt the play, with Dupre landing out of bounds as he made a circus catch.
Not a bad start for Shields’ potential heir.
“I don’t feel any pressure on myself that I have to do this, that I have to do that,” King said. “I’m just going out there and being who my parents raised. If that’s a leader, then that’s a leader.”