Pete Dougherty and Aaron Nagler give their first thoughts after watching the Packers beat the Eagles 24-9 in their preseason opener. (Aug. 10, 2017)
Earlier this week, an NFL scout took the time to share his thoughts with me about Kevin King’s potential.
The scout hadn’t heard anything about how the Green Bay Packers rookie cornerback was doing early in his first NFL training camp, but it turns out he pretty much knew anyway.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if (King) is trying to feel his way through it, not looking confident and actually not looking good with his play early,” the scout said. “But that will change. Especially when game time comes up. Jordy (Nelson), (Randall) Cobb, they’ll wear his (butt) out and get him ready for the rest of the league.”
That kind of sums up King’s first two weeks of training camp, including his preseason debut Thursday night against the Philadelphia Eagles. With Davon House (hamstring) given Thursday night off, King was in the starting nickel and played the entire first half at Lambeau Field.
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He took his lumps. He was beaten several times in one-on-one coverage, including on a Carson Wentz-to-Mack Hollins 38-yard touchdown on Philadelphia’s first offensive series. Hollins separated from King on a crossing route and then broke the rookie’s tackle attempt on the way to the score. That’s a tough way to start your first NFL game, even if it doesn’t count in the standings.
King also showed the willingness and ability to tackle hard on three short passes completed in front of him. On the final of those, his holding up of tight end Billy Brown allowed Blake Martinez to come in late and force a fumble. One of the knocks on him coming out was his tackling, so maybe he’s better there than advertised.
Two weeks into his first training camp, it’s clear King has plenty of talent. It’s also clear why he was a late-first-round to early-second-round prospect — the Packers took him in the first slot of the second round — rather than higher.
“It’s hard to find 6-3 corners that move that like and have those skills,” the scout said. “The thing is, he’s still extremely raw, you’ve got to know what you’re getting. In an ideal situation you’d want two starting corners and have him as your third guy and get acclimated the first year.”
It’s still tough to tell whether King will be among the Packers’ top three when the regular season begins. That would put him in their nickel, which essentially would make him a starter because it's the defense they play more than any other. If House had played, King wouldn’t have been in that group. The other two starters in the nickel would have been Quinten Rollins on the outside and Damarious Randall in the slot.
Then Randall sustained a concussion Thursday night. If he misses a couple weeks, King will get a chance to play more. Three weeks can be a long time in camp, and it very well might be enough for King to show he should be on the field a lot when the Packers play Seattle in their opener Sept. 10.
But he’s going to have to get better, and fast, for that to happen. He missed most of the offseason work because of the NFL’s nonsensical rule prohibiting practice for players from colleges on the quarters system. That hasn’t helped a player who only moved from safety to cornerback for his final 1½ seasons in college. He was spun around a couple times in coverage Thursday night, a sure sign of what’s going on in his head as well.
Besides the long touchdown, King also allowed Bryce Treggs to get behind him on a 38-yard completion late in the second quarter from backup quarterback Matt McGloin. Those big plays are killers. They can cost games.
But let’s also say, King’s up-and-down start is nothing to get worked up about, either. Sure, the Packers would prefer him to be ready-made, but if he were, a cornerback with his size and ability wouldn’t have been on the board at No. 33, or when they traded back at No. 28. He'd have gone in the top 10 or 15.
“Kevin had some excellent form tackles,” coach Mike McCarthy said after the game. “I’m sure there are going to be some plays he can learn from. I thought he definitely showed up.”
The Packers’ charge is to make sure King is contributing this season, if not for the opener, then soon after.
The Packers’ other second-round pick, Josh Jones, had a less eventful day. He split his time with the No. 2 defense at inside linebacker and safety. He missed one open-field tackle but otherwise looked good in coverage and showed he can handle the more physical play when he lines up near the line of scrimmage.
The Packers also look like they have their punt returner for the season. Trevor Davis showed true breakaway speed on a 68-yard touchdown return in the second quarter, and ripped off 26 yards on his other attempt. He has a gear that Randall Cobb doesn’t.
Safe to say Davis is finally out of the dog house that had been his home since muffing a catch at Tennessee last November.