More Slot Snaps for Jaire Alexander Under Joe Barry?

We still don't know what to fully expect under Joe Barry, but we could see Jaire Alexander in the slot more, similarly to the uptick in snaps Jalen Ramsey saw last season.

Since entering the NFL in 2018, Jaire Alexander has been an ascending player, and that culminated last season with a second-team All-Pro selection. When it was all said and done, Alexander allowed a completion rate of just 49 percent on 76 targets at only 9.5 yards per catch. He would also record with three interceptions and 14 pass breakups.
 
Right before our very eyes, Alexander has developed into a shutdown corner, not allowing more than 20 receiving yards in 11 out of a possible 17 games. And if grades are your thing, his coverage grade from PFF was the highest among all eligible cornerbacks. 
 
With the draft behind us, as we start to turn our focus to the 2021 season, we don't know exactly what this Green Bay Packers' defense is going to look like under new defensive coordinator Joe Barry, but the expectation is that it is going to look similar to what the Los Angeles Rams ran in 2020 under Brandon Staley and what the Denver Broncos have been utilizing under head coach Vic Fangio.
 
In that Rams' defense last year, All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey was still primarily a boundary corner, but he moved around much more than what he had in recent years. From 2017 to 2019, Ramsey took a total of 214 snaps from the slot, while just last season, he was the nickel corner on 173 snaps, according to PFF.
 
Now, again, that wasn't his primary responsibility by any means, but Staley allowed him to stick with the opponent's top receiver, and in most instances, he was able to take that player out of the game. However, also lining up in zone coverage -- which is used heavily in this defensive system -- from the slot position allowed Ramsey to patrol the middle of the field, taking away throwing lanes, making life more difficult for opposing quarterbacks, and allowing his playmaking ability to shine. Ramsey was used as a blitzer on occasions as well. 
 
Below, via Sports Illustrated, Staley describes what's expected from the nickel corner position and why giving Ramsey more snaps inside made so much sense:
 
"You’ve got to be able to process because things happen quickly inside. You need a guy that can see and a guy that can think and operate quickly. Those are things that he does well. We felt like he’s a defensive back; he’s not just a corner. We feel like he can play a lot of different positions for us and we feel like he fits that role extremely well. It gives us some versatility there and I’ve been pleased with the way he’s played in there.”
 
Alexander, who is working towards putting himself into a similar stratosphere as Ramsey, has slot experience, taking 174 snaps there during his rookie season. But over the last two years, the number has dwindled to just 109 total snaps, including only 33 in 2020. 
 
As I said in the beginning, how each member of this Packers' defense is going to be utilized by Barry is still a bit of an unknown, but with Alexander's ability to erase top-flight receivers and reliability as a tackler, he certainly could play a role similar to what Ramsey did--following the opponent's top wideout and complicating things over the middle, even if Alexander doesn't have the same 6'1" frame that Ramsey does. 
 
If that's the case, then that means more snaps at the 'star' position, as Barry calls it, for Jaire Alexander--although I'm going to point out that his main job will still be on the boundary. In today's NFL, the nickel cornerback is essentially one of the 11 starting positions on defense, and if the Green Bay Packers can have their shutdown corner taking more snaps there, well, then that's going to add a new element to this defense that opposing offenses will have to account for.  
 
"I am from the school that you cannot have enough guys who are potential nickels," said Barry via Packer Report. "So I am not going to name any names, but I cannot wait to get these guys in here and teach the system teach them our philosophy, and really see if we have one true nickel or two three four guys. . . In today’s football, you better have a great nickel or star corner.”

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Born and raised in Green Bay, WI and I still call it home. After my family, watching the Packers, sharing my opinions on the team through my writing and interacting with other fans is my greatest passion. You can find me on Twitter at @Paul_Bretl. 
 

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Comments (28)

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pack1487's picture

May 07, 2021 at 07:02 am

I'm excited to see this defense and am looking forward to the change. I still think they need to address LB and DT but I can't wait for season to start and see what that side of the ball looks like.

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4thandinches's picture

May 07, 2021 at 08:08 pm

While I like the idea of Jaire playing zone in the middle of the field I do wonder if he'd need to stick his nose in the running game more at the star position compared to playing outside. Being in on more tackles might increase the risk of an injury to Jaire we just can't afford. Am I off or is there some validity to my thinking? Thanks!

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Coldworld's picture

May 07, 2021 at 07:52 am

Moving Jaire at times may not be a bad thing. Options are always good and add to things opponents need to consider, but I do not really see how this fits with our post draft roster. We drafted two to play inside, one of whom may move outside, but likely on King’s side. It would therefore seem likely that Jaire will primarily stay outside. Swapping sides at times may in fact be more likely.

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BradHTX's picture

May 07, 2021 at 08:30 am

I think in an ideal world, you are correct: Alexander and Stokes on the boundary, SJC in the slot. But I don’t expect that to happen for a while. SJC is like skirt steak… I think he will turn out great, but it will take a lot of marinating before he is ready for the grill.

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dobber's picture

May 07, 2021 at 08:31 am

Certainly the way the Packers have used their DBs -- Pettine rarely gave snaps to his 4th CB on game day, almost exclusively using his 3rd and even 4th safety instead -- would argue that SJC would need to either be a revelation and leapfrog Sullivan, or need an injury or maybe two to make a significant impact in terms of snaps. That's fine so long as the guy playing ahead of him is credible, but it does lead one to think he'll be primarily a special teams guy and a depth piece in 2021.

That's the old. With a new sheriff in town, we'll have to see how the snaps are divvied up, but the Fangio/Staley system also seems to prefer safeties to CBs.

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Coldworld's picture

May 07, 2021 at 08:47 am

I don’t disagree. That is part of my questioning the likelihood of moving Jaire inside fir a significant number of snaps.

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jannes bjornson's picture

May 07, 2021 at 01:40 pm

I still endorse the "Butler's" plan. Move Savage to the "Star" position and let him control the TE and slot guy and blitz. A lot of options. Backside blitz by Alexander is already in the playbook.

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Coldworld's picture

May 07, 2021 at 05:45 pm

Savage is actually a smaller safety. I’m not sure it’s the best use of him.

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Thegravedigger's picture

May 08, 2021 at 12:45 am

Its not the best use of him. Pettine figured out one fuckin thing the entire time he was here. It was savage playing robber. That was it. Let him stay there. You drafted corners. Let em cover. Obviously its not that simple. Gotta switch it up. But savageand amos had a really good thing going the 2nd half. Dont fuck with it.

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dobber's picture

May 07, 2021 at 08:25 am

Alexander's near exclusive use outside, IMO, was mostly predicated by the lack of starter's talent for the Packers among its CB group...and he's run with it. In general, they were better off with Alexander on the outside and TWill/Sullivan/safety covering that slot guy because the next perimeter CB on the depth chart was such a significant step down from King. The CB room--and DB group in general-- is starting to look like it has better depth than it's had in a while. We'll see if that perception is real, and how it plays into usage.

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jannes bjornson's picture

May 07, 2021 at 01:42 pm

When Jackson is given his walking papers, the room will exhale.

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greengold's picture

May 07, 2021 at 09:47 am

Nice piece, Paul. I think you're right that we could see changes with how Jaire is used.

From what I understand, Barry's defense will employ a lot of what Brandon Staley did with the Rams under Sean McVay. Both Alexander and Savage should reap huge benefits. There is so much switching involved in real time, even pre-snap to post snap. This all seems right up LaFleur's alley, in terms of what he wants to see. They can be in zone while Alexander stays in man single coverage at the "star." They will be busting into every coverage imaginable, while able to change into something completely different at the snap of the ball. This is going to be great to see as a Packers fan.

Over the past two years, the Packers have added a lot of players who can stay on the field full-time while offering multiple looks. Now, it looks like we've added more.

Many of us were pining for the Packers to take a LB. While Barry helped Cory Littleton go from UDFA to Pro Bowl with the Rams, the emphasis of that Staley/McVay defense as a whole was more on the versatility offered by the S/ILB hybrid.

I believe this is where we may have gotten a complete steal with signing UDFA Christian Uphoff. If he is anything like Jeremy Chinn, and I believe he is, Uphoff could wind up in a key role in this new Packers defense, at 6-2 214 with 4.4 speed (per Uphoff). If you watch his play, you see he has the speed. He's a big, long armed dude who can fly.

We also, in general as fans, were looking to add more bodies that were capable up front. Barry will emphasize 4 man fronts, and I can see Rashan Gary and Za'Darius Smith getting bigger roles inside, possibly in that Aaron Donald role. They both have the speed and the power to pull it off. TJ Slaton comes into play here, as now Kenny Clark can shift into that role too. He's a wrecking crew all by himself.

If Kamal Martin and Chris Barnes can stay healthy, this could be really special, while Jaire could see some big changes in how he is used that play to his strengths.

Speed is a hallmark here, along with every down players who are versatile enough to see the plan through. I think this new Packers Defense under Joe Barry, much like LaFleur's Offense, will be anything but predictable.

That selection of Eric Stokes really helps the Packers in this defensive scheme changeover, as does the potential steal in DB Shemar Jean-Charles, making any potential changes in Jaire Alexander's role on D pretty exciting.

Adding the 6-5 330 lb. mountain in the middle TJ Slaton to help Clark is icing on the cake. This is all based on stuff we know, and proven experiences on Barry's resume. LaFleur & Barry will put their own wrinkles into this base to make it their own, and hopefully, that will be a success.

PS. I see the Sutton pick -could- have a somewhat similar impact on our DL to that of Myers on our OL. Adding Myers allows Jenkins to shift to LT if Bakhtiari needs more time. Sutton allows Clark to slide over and get more single coverage looks, while also able at his size to give Clark a rest, without losing much as a pure NT. From what I've read, Sutton wants those 60 snaps or so like he got as a Senior at Florida. I thought that was good to hear. He needs coaching, but he'll get it from Jerry Montgomery.

*******
Coldworld, you know what's kind of weird, and fits into what you're saying? DEN took Patrick Surtain II at the #9 pick. Imagine if he were to wind up in GB with Jaire Alexander and Eric Stokes.

The writing could be on the wall for both King and Jackson.

HELLO!

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PatrickGB's picture

May 07, 2021 at 10:24 am

If the biggest threat to a defense is a long competition to a WR then I would prefer Alexander to cover the boundaries. However, if a team has a slot receiver that is killing, the defense then pit him there one in a while. But all in all I would prefer to keep him just where he is.

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NoNonsense's picture

May 07, 2021 at 10:34 am

Still wishing Jim Leonard would have taken the Job. BTW does anyone here think Rodgers may have played a part in him not accepting the job given the reports that Rodgers told some teammates he might be moving on? I can't help but wonder why Leonard would do 2 interviews, get offered the job then decline.

Anyway, I'm curious to see what the effect of a switch to more zone coverage has on the DB room in general. Forget the new guys for a second. I'm pretty sure JA can play in either coverage but what about King or Josh Jackson? Might these guys actually be better in zone coverage. I know Josh Jackson is best suited for zone, so could this defense actually turn him into a quality player finally?

It's all a beautiful mystery.

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LambeauPlain's picture

May 07, 2021 at 03:01 pm

I would nave loved Jim in GB...what I read is he took the first interview as a courtesy to Matt, but had no real desire to leave the Badgers. The first session went so well he came back for the second and received an offer from Matt.

He spent a lot of time discussing the offer and move with his wife but eventually said he could not pull himself away from the Badgers. He may be the HC of the Badgers one day.

Why would Rodgers call Leonard to say he was leaving? That would be the height of stupidity.

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NoNonsense's picture

May 07, 2021 at 08:41 pm

Well if hes mad and hates Gute who knows. Maybe Jim called him, hes a young former player, these guys have crossed paths before. If I'm gonna take the DC job for a team, I'd wanna know what their best player thought of the organization and the management, maybe find out how long he's gonna be sticking around.

I dont know I thought it was a valid question considering some of the reports coming out about Rodgers possibly trying to sabotage the team on the way out the door. Big difference between telling his teammates he might not be here next year and telling a prospective coach that he might be leaving but if they have any kind of personal connection it's not out of the realm of possibility I guess.

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Oppy's picture

May 07, 2021 at 04:10 pm

Don't know why Leonard would care who's playing on that side of the ball.

A lot of professionals interview with other firms even if they're not necessarily looking for a new position. They do it because it's the only real way to gauge your true value on the market.

Leonard probably got a contract number waived in front of him, and now he knows his true value. That can be used to better negotiate his salary with his current employer, or it will better prepare him for the day he does decide to move on from WI

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Leatherhead's picture

May 07, 2021 at 10:43 am

Regardless of how Alexander is used, I think we’ll see the Packers playing 5 or 6 DBs on most defensive snaps. Alexander, Amos, and Savage are blue chips. Next three are probably Stokes, King, and Sullivan. The four other spots on the gameday roster are going to ....Jackson? Hollman? Scott? These guys will have to play if starters get injured.

If nobody gets hurt, our top 6 is pretty good. If we could trade for somebody like Surtain, we’d have a really good secondary for the next several years.

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Coldworld's picture

May 07, 2021 at 11:02 am

Maybe Ento and don’t ignore Russell as a more safety-like type and STer. Then we have players like Scott, Black, Redmond and Uphoff, who may fit Barry’s multiple back plans better than pure CB types and add more on STs. Going to be a good competition.

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Leatherhead's picture

May 07, 2021 at 12:19 pm

9 on gameday, another one or two on inactive, another one or two on the PS. We surely can use as many guys who can tackle and cover as we can get.

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splitpea1's picture

May 07, 2021 at 12:24 pm

I don't like it. When nobody throws your way on one side, why tamper with success? Since Savage's tackling has improved, maybe try that more. Some of these new guys maybe also, but let's wait until they make the team first and prove they are ready to handle the duties. By the way, I hope Barry makes good on his promise that everyone WILL tackle. We've heard this one before, though.

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NorCalPacker685's picture

May 07, 2021 at 12:17 pm

I just really really REALLY hope we don't have to watch Will Redmond much next year. I was so excited at the proposition of both he and King being gone. However, our genius GM decided both were worth some money. I get King. He's shown he can occasionally make some plays here or there, especially in the red zone. Redmond however is a complete liability. I hope guys like Scott, Black, and even Uphoff can make strides in their game and push Will_NOT_MakePlays to the practice squad. This defense has a chance to be top 10. But you're only as good as your weakest link in this game, as we saw. So please, lets get some playmakers in there so we don't have to watch King and Redmond submarine the season, again....

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flackcatcher's picture

May 07, 2021 at 04:12 pm

All Redmond had to do was catch a damn popup, and we would never be dealing with all this Rodgers crap and new DC? system crap. We all be happy from being in the Superbowl and watching the Smiths and Gray have crushing KC QB. BUT NOOOOOO idiot DB had to undergo brain lock. CATCH THE BALL END THE HALF! (pause pause pause) SIGH..... And you want to know how cold blooded our GM is, he resigns Redmond to a minimum contract. He gives the kid another chance. (shakes head) I hate you Will Redmond. (There I said it)

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LambeauPlain's picture

May 07, 2021 at 03:09 pm

I have read the Fangio style of D keeps 4 LBs on the field most of the time...2 OLBs and 2 ILBs with one often a hybrid. Hybrid is going to be very competitive in camp with Greene gone. Great opportunity for Uphoff.

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PatrickGB's picture

May 07, 2021 at 03:32 pm

That might be but Barry is reputed to be quite flexible in what defense he chooses to run.

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flackcatcher's picture

May 07, 2021 at 04:32 pm

Barry's hiring was so messy, (not his fault) I am wondering who is going to run this defense once the season starts. As a DC his record is well, not very good. Will Jerry Gray be the power behind the throne. Who knows? (NOT ME) The only change is adding more DB and DL. Something that was a known issue the past two seasons. Lafleur's problem was the DC, not his scheme. Till training camp starts, more questions than answers.

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Coldworld's picture

May 07, 2021 at 05:50 pm

I doubt that. Gray was passed over.

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flackcatcher's picture

May 07, 2021 at 10:36 pm

Was he? We don't know that. In fact, we really do not know how Lafleur plans to manage the defensive side of the house. Gutekunst's answer on draft day on Barry was detailed and vague at the same time. Like I said. Waiting for training camp.

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