Davante Adams likens Packers rookie corner Eric Stokes to Jaire Alexander, Sam Shields
GREEN BAY – It was assumed ever since the Green Bay Packers signed cornerback Kevin King to a one-year, $5 million contract that barring injury, he would be a starter on opening day.
It’s still likely King will be there despite taking only a handful of 11-on-11 snaps the first three weeks of camp due to a hamstring injury. But there’s someone hot on his heels.
First-round pick Eric Stokes was drafted to be an eventual starter and from the early portion of training camp, it appeared it might not be until next year. But after being spun like a top during the Aaron Rodgers-Davante Adams initiation process given to first-round corners, he is starting to cover the way the Packers thought he could.
“It will be a competition all the way through,” coach Matt LaFleur said Thursday. “And Kevin, shoot, he's played a lot of ball here. And I think when he challenges guys at the line of scrimmage, I think he's as good as anybody.
“But we’ll let that thing play out.”
Rodgers and Adams put Jaire Alexander through the same treatment, targeting him during his first training camp in 2018 to see how he’d handle it. Alexander turned it into a master’s course in coverage, picking Adams’ brain at almost every practice to see how he could get better.
Stokes went through some rough moments the first two weeks of camp, but recently he has been much closer to the ball and not scrambling to recover from a move Adams or another receiver put on him. Stokes has blazing speed (4.31 seconds in the 40-yard dash) and is learning how to use it.
“He's the closest thing to Jaire here as far as mentality and ability from what I've seen so far,” Adams said. “I mean, the kid is fast as hell. He can get beat and recover kind of like how Sam Shields would do.”
Adams recalled a moment in training camp when he beat the speedy Shields, an undrafted free agent who was a top corner in the league before a series of concussions caused the Packers to release him after the 2016 season. The receiver thought he would be wide open. But the next thing he knew, Shields was right on his hip.
“(He’s) like, ‘Where the hell are you going? I'm right here,’” Adams recalled. “So, I see the same thing from him (Stokes).”
In fact, Adams said there was a play earlier this week where Stokes didn’t bite on a deep move and then used his speed to prevent Adams from finishing his comeback route with a reception. It was a route where two weeks ago, Stokes would have been still running down the field when Adams made his break back.
All the snaps Stokes has gotten filling in for King as a starter has provided a golden opportunity that he isn’t wasting. Like Alexander, he wants Adams to teach him all that he doesn’t know.
“He came to me after one of the practices and was like, ‘Keep getting me better, bro, like, I appreciate this,'” Adams said. “’I know you're getting after me.’”
Quarterback Kurt Benkert has one professional start under his belt, a 2018 preseason game with the Atlanta Falcons.
With LaFleur likely to give Jordan Love (shoulder) a few more days to heal, Benkert is preparing to start against the Jets.
One of his biggest challenges is making some splash plays that will improve his chances to make the roster, but at the same time not forcing passes into coverage and committing turnovers. He was 8 of 12 for 88 yards in a relief role against Houston last week, but he also threw a bad interception and fumbled a snap.
“That's the balance that any young guy has to kind of find the fine line of, know which throws you can make that are dangerous and which ones that just aren't worth it,” Benkert said. “Like the interception I had: It was second down, you don't need to make that throw. You can move on to the next play, get another play that will roll.
“I think it’s finding that fine line, but don't let it make you a hesitant player because I felt like when I was in college when I was hesitant, that was when I was at my worst.”
MVS confidence soaring
Entering his fourth season, Marquez Valdes-Scantling is in the midst of his strongest camp with the Packers. That isn’t expected to change, even after the speedy receiver had his first significant drop since practices began.
On second-and-3 in a two-minute drill, Valdes-Scantling streaked open deep down the right sideline. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers put his pass on target, hitting Valdes-Scantling in the hands. The ball bounced off his hands, incomplete.
Valdes-Scantling has struggled with drops early in his career. Those drops have not been a problem in this camp. Davante Adams, who knows what it’s like for a receiver to regain confidence in his hands, said he expects Valdes-Scantling to handle the drop in stride.
“I think he’s in a good spot right now,” Adams said.
Adams struggled with drops early in his career, a problem that he since corrected on his way to becoming perhaps the NFL’s best receiver. He said the mental recovery for a receiver learning to trust his hands is important.
“The confidence issue made it tougher coming back to the next ball because of that,” Adams said. “But I think where he is now, and what he’s done so far during camp, how he ended his season last year has put him in a good spot. To where now if I go out there and drop a ball – I’m not going to catch every ball – so if I go out there and drop a ball, it’s not like, ‘Damn, I just dropped that.’ It’s more so internal. It’s not about worried about the other stuff, because that’s the stuff that starts to affect your confidence. And he knows it. He’s proved it to himself, the way he’s been practicing, the intensity, the consistency with the technique, working his releases and stuff like that.”
Adams said he expects Valdes-Scantling to be an even bigger part of the Packers' passing game this season than in the past, because of what he has done in this camp.
Davante Adams didn’t see who started it. When Packers receiver Randall Cobb and Jets rookie cornerback Brandin Echols got tangled on a block in the back of the end zone, and neither let go of the other, Adams immediately intervened.
“I’m often there pretty quick when stuff happens to my teammates,” Adams said, “whether or not it’s warranted.”
Adams had plenty of company.
The Packers and Jets almost made it through a pair of joint practices without fighting. After a clean first day, tempers flared briefly Thursday. Both teams came together in one mob with players shouting and shoving each other on the north end of Ray Nitschke Field, though no punches were thrown.
“I saw something going on,” Adams said, “and I just wanted to defuse it. I feel like I was able to successfully do that, at least for the first part of that skirmish. It’s just about having your brother’s back; no punches were thrown. I didn’t start anything. It wasn’t about me getting out any anger or anything. It was trying to get a guy off my guy, and keep practicing.”
The Packers and Jets were able to finish Thursday’s practice with no further altercation. Afterward, players from both teams mingled on the field in friendly banter.
The teams will play each other Saturday in a preseason game.