Packers cornerback Kevin King focusing on strong finish, staying on the field

GREEN BAY - Kevin King knows the questions he'll face if he arrives on the open market as a free agent next spring will have less to do with his ability, and more to do with his availability.

Since the day King arrived as a rookie with the Green Bay Packers, he has done plenty to prove he's a quality NFL cornerback. He started covering No. 1 receivers early in his career, and still is relied on for single, man coverage. Even with Jaire Alexander usurping King as the Packers' top cornerback, King is the top playmaker in the team's secondary. His five interceptions last season were more than Alexander has had total in his three-year career.

Coach Matt LaFleur called King a "premier corner" earlier this season. In the NFL, premier corners get paid.

"Guys know me," King said, "and everybody around this organization, they know me. They know what type of player I am, and they know what type of person I am to this organization, just in general. So definitely just let it speak for itself."

If the Packers and other evaluators around the NFL know what kind of player King is, they're also aware of his struggles staying on the field.

Those struggles have continued this season. After playing 15 games in 2019, by far the healthiest season of his career, King has again battled injuries this fall. King missed five games with a quad injury that was tricky to heal, costing perhaps more time to recover than expected.

It's not quite the same as King's first two seasons, both of which ended on injured reserve. King returned against the Indianapolis Colts last month and has missed only five snaps in the past three games. He makes a big difference for the pass coverage when on the field, giving the Packers' defense a pair of quality cornerbacks.

To finish the season strong, King knows what he must do.

"It's all about consistency," King said. "It's all about staying on the field."

Getting close

With two days of practice under his belt, there’s a chance rookie running back AJ Dillon will be available Sunday.

But LaFleur wasn’t committing to it because he wanted to see how Dillon handled coming back after missing five games due to COVID-19. Dillon has been working out for about two weeks, but his first official day of practice was Thursday.

“I thought he had a nice week of practice,” LaFleur said. “Certainly, we're going to be careful with him because he's extremely important in the stretch run here. But I thought he's done a lot of nice things.

“More or less, it's just the toll that it has taken on his body. We'll see where he's at tomorrow and on Sunday and see if he's ready to go.”

LaFleur said having Dillon back would allow him to go to more two-back sets since he can’t afford to do that with only two backs on the roster. It’s possible Dillon’s main role will be on special teams if he plays against the Lions with a few offensive plays sprinkled in.

For the season, he has 23 carries for 97 yards and one catch for 16 yards.

Injury update

The Packers have only two healthy tight ends on their 53-man active roster in Robert Tonyan and Marcedes Lewis.

The Packers have ruled out tight end Jace Sternberger, who is in concussion protocol. Sternberger left Week 13’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles in the second quarter after he appeared to get kicked in the back of the helmet by defensive end Derek Barnett.

LaFleur said he’ll have to get “creative” and use different personnel groupings to replace Sternberger, who lines up at fullback and assumes the blocking and receiving responsibilities of a traditional tight end in LaFleur’s scheme.

Last week, the Packers elevated tight end Dominique Dafney from the practice squad to the active roster for game day against the Eagles. It was Dafney’s first of two allotted elevations. He played six snaps after Sternberger came out and was used at fullback as a lead blocker. Both Dafney and practice squad tight end Dax Raymond are eligible to be called up this weekend.

The Packers also ruled out guard Simon Stepaniak, who was activated off of reserve/non-football injury this week.

Wide receiver Malik Taylor was downgraded to a non-participant in practice Friday after popping up on the injury report Thursday with a hamstring injury. He’s listed as questionable to play against the Lions along with wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown (knee/concussion) and safety Darnell Savage (groin), who was also a late-week addition to the injury report.

Meanwhile, the Lions will play without three starters in wide receiver Kenny Golladay (hip), right tackle Tyrell Crosby and rookie cornerback Jeff Okudah, who have each been ruled out.

Six players are listed as questionable, including quarterback Matthew Stafford (right thumb), running back D’Andre Swift (illness), defensive end Austin Bryant (thigh), defensive lineman Da’Shawn Hand (groin), safety C.J. Moore (ankle) and defensive tackle John Penisini (shoulder).

Swift has missed the last three games, two of which while he was in concussion protocol and the other with what the Lions call an illness unrelated to COVID-19. He practiced as a full participant on Friday and is on track to play against the Packers.

Easy goes it

It appears that receiver Allen Lazard is functioning as well as he did before undergoing core muscle surgery in Week 3.

He caught a 31-yard pass on a go route last week against Philadelphia, easily beating the corner off the line of scrimmage, and blocked well for a third straight game. In his first two games back, he played 36 and 33 snaps and caught six passes for 41 yards and a touchdown.

He played 42 snaps against Philadelphia and caught three passes for 50 yards.

“I think he's getting closer and closer,” LaFleur said. “Certainly, we want to be mindful of just how much we're putting on him. He's so valuable to our football team.”

In his absence, St. Brown and Darrius Shepherd saw their snaps increase and with Shepherd getting released, Taylor is seeing more time. The addition of Tavon Austin as a running back/receiver could mean a reduction in snaps for someone, but not for Lazard.

“I thought our guys did an outstanding job when he wasn't available,” LaFleur said. “But for us to achieve what we want to get done, he's an important part of that. So, we'll continually just kind of be slow with his (increased snaps). We don't want him out there for 65 plays in a game. Just not yet, at least.”

To defer or not to defer

LaFleur said he hasn’t put a lot of extra thought into whether to accept the ball or defer when he wins the coin toss.

Most of the time he defers.

“It doesn't matter to me whether we start on offense or we start on defense,” LaFleur said. “Most of the guys that I've been around have deferred. I think it does give you some opportunities to come out of the half with the ball.

“Certainly, it (affects) how we approach halftime always trying to create an extra possession for yourself and then hopefully take the ball out in the second half and then go down to score. But honestly, each and every week, you've got to adjust (to the opponent). A lot of times you don't win the toss and you end up with the ball. Why do most people defer? I don't really know.”