Aaron Nagler speaks with Michael Cohen of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about the banged up secondary the Green Bay Packers will have to work around as they take on the Cleveland Browns. (Dec. 8, 2017)
GREEN BAY – The pain was so severe, it left details in Kevin King’s memory. He not only remembers being a freshman safety at Washington the first time his left shoulder popped out of its socket but also the name of the running back he hit.
King met Arizona State tailback Marion Grice in the hole, another car-crash collision. Only this hit left King with a dislocated left shoulder, and pain he’ll never forget.
“The first time it happened,” King said, “I thought I probably wasn’t going to play football again. That (expletive) hurt.”
The first time it happened.
King’s shoulder has dislodged many times since. He rehabbed after that first injury, which required surgery to repair his labrum, only to return and have another dislocation against Oregon State.
The dislocations have become more and more frequent, King said.
Through nine games this season, the Green Bay Packers rookie cornerback kept reliving the same nightmare. He’d make a tackle, or fall hard against the ground, and his left shoulder would pop out of its socket. King said it happened roughly 10 times this season, the first forcing him to miss a day in training camp.
For King, it’s part of his reality playing football. He’s a long-armed corner with “loose limbs,” King said. He wonders if his body is naturally more prone to dislocations.
He’s had plenty of experience.
“Initially once it happens,” King said, “I’ll go to the sideline and I really just try to get my strength back. As soon as I get my strength back, I can go back in. And then my adrenaline is pumping and stuff. It really doesn’t hurt that bad until the next day or two.
“That’s when I feel like I’m ready to go on IR.”
He held off that trip to injured reserve until this week. King said he’ll have surgery Tuesday with Dr. James Andrew to repair his labrum, a second operation on his left shoulder. He doesn’t know whether the problems he has had this season are connected to his freshman season at Washington.
King said he isn’t surprised to need surgery. His goal was to finish the season, knowing an operation was likely on the horizon. Initially, King said, the Packers allowed him to decide whether he’d play.
“If you ask me that,” King said, “I’m going to say, ‘Let’s play,’ every time. They know that now, so it got to the point where they said, ‘OK, we’re going to step in. This is what needs to happen.’”
King said there wasn’t a specific dislocation that determined it was time for surgery. Instead, the accumulation became prohibitive.
No matter how familiar he was with dislocations, it’s difficult to play football with a shoulder that won’t stay in its socket.
King’s history of shoulder injuries certainly isn’t ideal. He said his shoulder was sore toward the end of his senior season last year, but it didn’t prevent him from playing. King remembers discussing his shoulder with the Packers before the draft.
General manager Ted Thompson was comfortable enough with King’s shoulder to draft him with his first pick, opening the second round. The shoulder was an issue almost as soon as King arrived. In camp, cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt Jr. said, King’s inability to jam with his left shoulder limited his teaching.
There were “a few games” this season the shoulder wasn’t a problem, King said. Otherwise, it also limited his production.
“I know what he can be,” Whitt said, “but with him not being able to throw that arm — he has a chance to be a really, really good player. Once he’ll be able to throw and control people at the line of scrimmage, the way that his length and his ability to be able to bend and move and do those types of things, once he gets that taken care of, you’re going to see a player that you’ll be really excited about. But you haven’t seen it yet.
“You haven’t really seen the real Kevin King yet.”
It makes sense why King finished this season without an interception. Pretty hard to catch the football using only one arm. King’s final play as a rookie was a 14-yard completion against Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown, setting up a game-winning field goal. That, too, is now understandable.
Unable to jam at the line of scrimmage, King offered no resistance against Brown’s out route to the sideline.
King said he didn’t use his left arm to jam a single snap in the Packers' win at Chicago in November. As tape accumulated of King playing with one arm, teams knew what to expect. It became harder for King to play effectively.
It’s also no wonder, considering his constant shoulder issues in college, that poor tackling was a knock on King entering the draft. With a bum shoulder, King said the key to better tackling this season was his attitude.
"There’s certain things you’ve got to do, and you can’t play timid out there, because if you’re timid and you hesitate, it hurts more," King said. “Pretty much all my tackles are like that, if you noticed. There ain’t too much slowing down with it. For me, it’s worked better. It doesn’t hurt as much.”
King hopes this second surgery is his last. He doesn’t expect shoulder injuries to linger throughout his career, but that might just be wishful thinking. As many times as his shoulder has dislocated, it’s hard to imagine the problem won’t be consistent as long as he plays football.
If it’s a matter of pain tolerance, King proved this season he can tolerate an awful lot.
“Your rookie year,” King said, “you want to come in and earn the respect of these guys for sure. So I just think they know what type of man I am, they know what type of person I am. They’ve never got to worry about me giving up or anything like that. When they go in a battle with me, they know I’m going to ride till the end, until they’ve got to carry me off on a stretcher."