GREEN BAY – Jaire Alexander has heard the knock on his height his whole life. He’s always been under 5-11, always shorter than most of the receivers he covers.
He’ll need to adjust in the NFL, just as he did in college. But that transition doesn’t have to wait for the fall.
One thing became apparent in the Green Bay Packers' first practice of rookie orientation Friday: Alexander, the first-round pick, is going to cover plenty of tall receivers.
“That’s good,” Alexander said. “Especially when this whole time, I’ve been called slight or a short corner. Hey, it’s good competition to line up against big receivers.”
In shorts and no pads, very little pure, football evaluation was attainable in the Packers' first rookie orientation practice. How forgettable were these reps? J’Mon Moore, the fourth-round receiver, caught a deep pass on a corner route against Alexander in seven-on-seven drills. In the locker room after, Moore was asked about the play.
“Did I catch it?” he asked, unable to remember the specific rep.
Yes, he caught it.
This was more classroom aerobics than football, with rookies learning how to practice at coach Mike McCarthy’s demanded tempo as much as their new playbooks. Yet already, one potentially fascinating offseason subplot began to reveal itself.
Almost half of the Packers’ 11 picks were spent on cornerbacks or receivers. General manager Brian Gutekunst drafted corners with his first two picks, then a trio of receivers on Day 3. Starting with Friday’s rookie orientation, and extending throughout the offseason, the youth movement at both positions will continue to clash.
There is no shortage of confidence or bravado.
“I wouldn’t even call it testing myself,” Moore said. “I’m kind of attacking them, going at them. I mean, I don’t care what round anybody went or whatever. I’m going to go at you. So we’re just going to go at it, we’re going to get better, we’re going to sharpen each other every day. I’ve got to see them every day, we’re teammates. So it is what it is.”
Whether or not this was part of Gutekunst’s plan, the intense competition should only help. In fourth-round pick Moore (6-2⅝, 4.49 40), fifth-round pick Marquez Valdes-Scantling (6-4, 4.37) and sixth-round pick Equanimeous St. Brown (6-4¾, 4.48), the Packers have a trio of receivers with size and speed rarely found late in the draft.
They could be a worthwhile challenge against the undersized Alexander and second-round Josh Jackson, whose suspect speed and tendency to grab receivers beyond 5 yards will present an adjustment.
“It forces you to focus on your fundamentals,” Jackson said. “The closer up you press, you’ve got to make sure your footwork is on point, your hand placement is on point. So it just kind of makes you want to key in on all your other strengths.
“Right now, it’s just about getting the reps for it. Getting hands-on work on my technique every day in practice.”
Likewise, there’s a reason Moore, Valdes-Scantling and St. Brown were available to be drafted after the first three rounds. Each has kinks to smooth out in their games. Moore will have to prove his play speed is more in line with the 4.49 40 he ran at his pro day, not the 4.60 he was clocked at the NFL scouting combine. Valdes-Scantling, the most physically gifted of the three, struggled with drops in his first practice. For St. Brown, whose competitiveness was questioned before the draft, the chance to go against two top corners from the 2018 class should stoke his fire.
It won’t be like playing real football with pads until camp opens in late July, but these offseason practices are important.
“The drills within the period,” McCarthy said, “are really geared to make sure we get a movement evaluation on every player. So it’s more about evaluation, but it is football. So it’s an opportunity for everybody to see how we operate in the classroom, expectations there. How we operate on the practice field, carry the expectations there. But this is an evaluation period these next 48 hours, and we will get that out of the practice video.”