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Take it from Darrell Green: Packers' Jaire Alexander must be 'something special'

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Darrell Green didn't know much, if anything, about Jaire Alexander. But when assistant coach Jerry Gray asked him to speak to the Green Bay Packers defensive backs, Green figured his old friend must think there's a natural comparison.

Green, the Hall of Fame cornerback who played 20 NFL seasons, first met Gray when the two played in the 1986 Pro Bowl -- the first of seven Pro Bowls for Green and the first of four for Gray.

They have remained friends ever since, but this was a first during Gray's 24 seasons as an NFL assistant coach.

"Jerry never called me like that with his group before," Green said. "So I think that Jerry knew that he had something special, and his goal is to load them up with the best that he can between himself and any other resource that he has to say, ‘You know what, we're going to get you there.'"

Green spoke to all the Packers defensive backs via Zoom in June, but he might as well have been speaking directly to Alexander, the third-year cornerback who has become the centerpiece of the secondary.

No one brought up Green's name as a comparison to Alexander when the Packers picked him 18th overall in the 2018 NFL draft. Then again, why would anyone try to compare a college cornerback to one of the greatest of all time who lasted two decades in the NFL?

But Gray, who is in his first year with the Packers, saw some of his old friend in his new corner.

Here was Alexander, 5-foot-10ΒΌ and right on the Mendoza line for a cornerback's height in the Packers' scouting rulebook.

And there was Green, all of 5-9.

Naturally, the Zoom conversation turned to Green's height.

By that point, Gray had already pegged Alexander for matchups against even the tallest receivers the Packers would face. Case in point: Week 6 against the 6-5 Mike Evans of Tampa Bay, a matchup that -- despite the Packers' loss -- went in Alexander's favor.

"We got a chance to hear him talk about how he covered Randy Moss," Gray said. "So Randy is what, 6-foot-5? Darrell Green is 5-foot-9, and he kinda told us: 'This is what I did to stop Randy Moss.' So when he competed at a high level, he had a way of waiting for Randy to catch the ball and bring it down in order for him to get the ball out. So that really wasn't an issue.

"So am I saying Jaire is going to be a Hall of Famer? I hope he is when he's finished his career. But I think putting Jai out there in competition and with his competitiveness, I don't think he looked at height as a problem for him."

The 23-year-old Alexander looked at other aspects of Green's game: speed and longevity.

"Darrell Green is super-fast," Alexander said. "He's been playing for a really long time, and that's like the goal to play for a really long time. Just to be as good, or even better, that's a milestone, you know, that all the great players want to achieve. I'm not falling nothing short of that."

When asked what Alexander took away from Green's talk, he said: "Shoot, I mean, he said a lot, you know. What I took from it was just being able to put a play behind you and have that confidence, because Darrell Green wasn't the biggest player. He wasn't the biggest player, he wasn't the tallest, but he had a lot of confidence and a lot of heart."

The Packers have a tall corner, the 6-3 Kevin King -- he and Alexander came in ranked as the No. 5 cornerback combination in the league in a recent ESPN+ story -- but the Packers don't simply match height vs. height.

"I know what type of competitor Jaire is and he's always up for that challenge; he definitely wants that responsibility and he does not shy away from competition," Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. "I think that's what makes him so good -- he just can't wait to go out there and play a great receiver."

Gray had 28 interceptions in his nine-year career and Green had 54, but Alexander's impact so far has shown in different ways. While he has only four interceptions in 35 games (including one pick this season), teams aren't even throwing at him. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, the Texans targeted Alexander only twice on Sunday. He didn't allow a catch as the nearest defender and broke up one pass.

For the season, Alexander has allowed just 5.3 yards per attempt as the nearest defender in coverage, sixth best among the 74 defensive backs targeted at least 25 times. Thirty-seven percent of those targets have been thrown into what NFL Next Gen Stats defines as "tight windows," which is fourth best among those 74 defensive backs.

Green said it was Alexander who asked the question he gets the most: "How did you play 20 seasons?"

That's when Green brought up his 100-100-100-100-100 philosophy.

"I'm going to give 100 percent to God, 100 percent to my wife, 100 percent to my kids, 100 percent to my job and 100 percent to something outside of me -- something people aren't paying me for where I'm serving someone," said Green, now an associate athletic director at George Mason University. "I always talk about it to players and I tell coaches: ‘Don't ask these guys to give 120 percent.' If you take 20 extra percent, then there's only 80 percent left for something else.

"This thing can get done at 100 percent, but the key is bring the 100 percent. And I talked about training every day 100 percent. So they say I'm the fastest man in NFL history. Well, guess what? I worked on speed every day. I worked on my feet every day. But then when I went home, I wouldn't think about speed and feet. But when I was there, I put it in, and then when I got ready to perform, then I expect to get out of it what I put into it."