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After ‘trials and tribulations,’ Jaire Alexander says he’s ready to be the leader Packers need him to be

GREEN BAY – Over the years, Jaire Alexander became comfortable with life on the island. It’s the nature of his position. No player relies less on teammates than a shutdown corner. No player has more autonomy either.

Press coverage. Off coverage. Man. Zone. Just make sure the receiver doesn’t get open. That’s the job.

But the island exists only on the field. That was Alexander’s lesson last year. Outside the lines, the Green Bay Packers top cornerback cannot go rogue. Everything Alexander does in the locker room, in meetings, before the coin toss affects his teammates. Only Kenny Clark has been part of this Packers defense longer than him.

They need the NFL’s highest-paid cornerback to lead.

Green Bay Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander participates in OTA practice.
Green Bay Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander participates in OTA practice.

It’s why Alexander decided attending organized team activities this spring was important, even necessary, a year after he skipped the voluntary workouts. He already was training in Green Bay three weeks before the offseason program began when Alexander decided to “give it a try.” He’s stayed in Green Bay every day since, a sign Alexander is ready to do things differently.

“I think the biggest thing,” Alexander said, “is understanding that, although I am on an island all the time and all day, it’s the culmination of everybody being around, and the culmination of the chemistry we’re building now that’s going to matter later on in the season. You’ll see it.”

Alexander finds himself balancing two realities this offseason. He needs a reset after a 2023 season he’d rather forget. Injuries forced him to miss nine games last year. A team-imposed suspension after Alexander appointed himself a captain at the coin toss in Carolina forced him to miss another. Alexander returned from the late-season discipline motivated, focused, productive. He showed signs of the player he’s been most of his career.

Which is why a reset is not what Alexander needs at all.

At his best, Alexander is among the NFL’s few cornerbacks who can take away half the field. Quarterbacks target him with caution. Alexander opened his first media session of 2024 on Wednesday announcing “the best corner in the league has entered the chat.” It’s not a stretch to think Alexander, still only 27 years old, can establish himself atop the NFL. What he wants more than anything is to build on the foundation laid.

“I feel like I still have so much to put out there and display consistently,” Alexander said. “I’m just ready to attack that.”

The difference now, Alexander said, is he’s thinking about more than himself. It’s a transition every young player goes through before they become a veteran. Entering the league, the drive is to make a mark. Alexander was a first-round draft pick in 2018. He made a Pro Bowl in 2020. He signed a four-year, $84 million contract in 2022. He made his second Pro Bowl that season.

Those are individual achievements. Alexander showed what he can do in this league. He knows it’s time to bring others along with him.

“Going into Year 7,” Alexander said, “at this point, I’m trying not to make it as much about myself and just do what’s best for the team.”

Green Bay Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander intercepts a pass during their wild-card playoff game at Dallas.
Green Bay Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander intercepts a pass during their wild-card playoff game at Dallas.

Alexander ended the most disappointing season of his career on an upward trajectory. His game-turning interception against Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott propelled the Packers deeper into the playoffs. It was the type of play that showed Alexander’s potential is still immense, reading Prescott perfectly before beating receiver Brandin Cooks to the football for a diving pick.

Coach Matt LaFleur has been even more impressed with how Alexander has led this spring. Alexander has brought his fiery competitiveness to the field during practice, making his presence known. In meetings, he’s focused on connecting with teammates.

“Ja’s been outstanding,” LaFleur said. “He’s been here every day. Shows up, great attitude, eager to learn, is out there competing with the guys, talking trash. Which I love, because I love just amping up that level of competition in a fun way. He’s never demeaning. I think he’s been a great teammate and been a great leader for us.”

Even before the offseason program, Alexander said he chatted with LaFleur and general manager Brian Gutekunst “several times” after last season. He focused on building a stronger relationship with the only NFL team he’s known, from the front office down. Their conversations “propelled” him to attend the offseason program, perhaps even more than the $700,000 workout bonus he’ll receive, considering the same bonus didn’t entice him to join OTAs last year.

Alexander’s attendance is ideal as the Packers transition to a new defensive scheme. Even if there is less change at corner than perhaps any other position in new coordinator Jeff Hafley’s playbook, the spring gives Alexander an opportunity to become acquainted with a new coaching staff that will be expecting much from one of their top players. There were “good vibes” between Alexander and his new coaches after their first meeting this offseason, he said.

“I like Jeff,” Alexander said. “He’s been great since Day 1. Preaches aggression, getting after everything. So, I mean, he’s a cool guy.”

The good vibes were harder to find between Alexander and former defensive coordinator Joe Barry. Alexander is determined to leave that in the past. This spring is a restart. A rebirth. But also a return, back to the player he was before 2023.

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He has no interest in reenacting the more forgettable season of his career.

“I think it’s just trial and tribulations, you know,” Alexander said. “We all grow at different stages of our lifetime, whether that be sooner or later. So it’s just trial and error, and also wanted to be here for the guys. They need a leader around here.”

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Jaire Alexander says he’s ready to be leader Packers need him to be