GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Jaire Alexander took pride in the way his fellow Green Bay Packers cornerbacks thrived without him last season.
Now that Alexander is back from a shoulder injury that sidelined him for most of the 2021 regular season, he is eager to play alongside Eric Stokes and Rasul Douglas as part of a secondary that could rank among the NFL’s best.
“The sky’s the limit at this point because you know who’s back,” Alexander said this week at the Packers minicamp. “The general’s back.”
Alexander, 25, appeared in just four regular-season games last season before returning to play eight snaps in the Packers’ 13-10 divisional playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
He’s healthier and wealthier now after signing a four-year, $84 million contract extensio n with a $30 million signing bonus, making him the NFL’s highest-paid defensive back.
“I wanted to be recognized as the best player, and the best player gets paid the most,” Alexander said. “So, you tell me. You tell me how I felt about that.”
The 25-year-old Alexander had emerged as one of the game’s top young cornerbacks before he had to watch the majority of last season from the sideline.
He hurt his right shoulder while tackling Najee Harris on a fourth-down play during the Packers’ 27-17 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Oct. 3.
“The pain was incredible,” Alexander said. “It was like something I never felt. It was different, man, and I knew instantly.”
Alexander avoided surgery and came back for the playoffs, but his shoulder issue made it difficult for him to tackle anyone. Alexander missed a tackle when Deebo Samuel gained 9 yards on a third-and-7, setting up Robbie Gould’s game-winning field goal as time expired.
“If it’s September, I make that tackle, for sure,” Alexander said. “But I had no intention of going into that game and tackling. I had every intention of covering a wide receiver and locking them up.
Alexander’s coaches were impressed that he came back at all.
“A lot of guys would have just cashed it in and said, ‘Hey, I’ll see you in May,’” defensive coordinator Joe Barry said. “He busted his butt to get back and really was not 100%. He played his butt off in that playoff game. It goes to show you what kind of character he has, what he’s all about. You talk about football character, Jaire Alexander has it.”
Alexander is ready to pick up where he left off in 2020, when he became the first Packers cornerback to earn any sort of All-Pro recognition as a second-team selection since Hall of Famer Charles Woodson in 2011.
He now has plenty of help in that secondary.
Stokes, a 2021 first-round pick from Georgia, showed promise as a rookie last season. Douglas has credited Alexander for helping him deliver a breakthrough season in which he picked off five passes and scored on two of them.
“I always asked him questions and he was always available,” Douglas said. “He always helped me through things when I asked him questions and stuff. When I called him, he always answered. That was big for me.”
Alexander saw enough from Stokes and Douglas last season to believe they’re capable of building on last season’s success.
“I tell them all the time, Eric Stokes and Rasul, they play as good as any All-Pro corners or any Pro Bowl corner that I’ve seen,” Alexander said. “That was good to see, (them) being able to pick up where I left off.”
Alexander is heading into this comeback season continuing the meditation sessions he’s practiced since his college years at Louisville and reminding himself of a message he received from Barry: Consistency is the best measure of greatness.
It’s a lesson his fellow cornerbacks also could use as the Packers try to bounce back from last season’s playoff disappointment.
“I tell Stokes, he needs to be the best in the league,” Alexander said. “I know I’m the best in the league, but what would I be like telling him not to be the best or Rasul not to be the best? That would be selfish. I just tell him just be the best, and we’re both going to be the best, and next thing you know, all three of us are going to be the best.”
TOP PHOTO: FILE – Green Bay Packers’ Jaire Alexander rides a bike to NFL football training camp Thursday, July 26, 2018, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
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