Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) is tackled by Green Bay Packers' Jaire Alexander (23) during the second half of an NFL football game, Monday, Oct. 5, 2020, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Tom Lynn)

Packers’ Alexander emerging as one of NFL’s top cornerbacks

Packers’ Alexander emerging as one of NFL’s top cornerbacks

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Green Bay’s Jaire Alexander believes meditation has helped him develop into one of the game’s top young cornerbacks.

In his last game, Alexander helped the Packers (4-0) hold Atlanta’s Calvin Ridley without a catch. Ridley has 29 receptions for 485 yards and four touchdowns in his other four games.

Alexander gets another shot to add to his growing reputation Sunday at Tampa Bay (3-2) as he matches up with Mike Evans or perhaps Chris Godwin.

“I’m feeling confident and the sky’s the limit,” Alexander said. “Or the stars are the limit, or the galaxy or anything beyond that.”

Alexander is on Green Bay’s injury report with hand and knee issues, but he was a full participant in Thursday’s practice. The Packers need a big game from him because starting cornerback Kevin King hasn’t practiced all week due to a quadriceps injury.

The 2018 first-round pick from Louisville has met every challenge thus far. While the Packers were off last week, Pro Football Focus named Alexander one of the league’s top two cornerbacks for the first quarter of the season.

“I just think that probably everybody else is seeing what we’ve seen for the last year, for the last year-and-a-half,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. “And it’s just like anything, a lot of times guys fly under the radar, and once the media gets wind of how good they are, then they recognize.”

In a season-opening victory at Minnesota, Alexander sacked Kirk Cousins in the end zone for a safety and also picked off a pass. He became only the fifth player since 2000 to have a sack, interception and safety in the same game.

That performance set the tone for his season.

“I don’t get caught in the hype of players,” Alexander said. “I think the first battle starts within and it starts with myself. If I focus on myself more, I will ultimately be able to win (against) my opponent because I’ll know what I need to do. Being able just to sit around all week or all day, even, and just know what I have to do and know where I need to improve and know where my strengths are, that allows me to be dominant with no hesitation.”

Alexander’s approach has caught the attention of his teammates. Aaron Rodgers called the 23-year-old cornerback “one of the most interesting players that I’ve ever been around.”

“He’s a really curious, fascinating human,” Rodgers said. “He’s got a lot of interests outside the game. We’ve had a lot of really interesting conversations. He’s very smart, just a fascinating guy. I enjoy our conversations talking about the books he’s reading or his own mental process.”

That mental process includes the meditation sessions that have helped Alexander maintain his focus. Alexander said he started meditating during his college years.

“I would catch myself thinking about things throughout the game or maybe even losing focus throughout the game,” Alexander said. “I just needed a way to keep that focus and be more dominant on and even off the field. A lot of players have anxiety just because of the stage that we’re on. That’s been the biggest way to calm that down for me and just simplify and narrow the game for me.”

It’s helped Alexander maximize his considerable talents.

Alexander’s cornerbacks coach at Louisville was Terrell Buckley, a 1992 Packers first-round draft pick who intercepted 50 passes during a 14-year NFL career. Buckley said Alexander had one of the best skill sets of any cornerback he’s coached.

What really impressed Buckley was how Alexander combined his physical gifts with a thirst for knowledge. Buckley said Alexander was often breaking down film, studying receivers and even offensive co-ordinators to get an edge.

“It takes all those little things,” said Buckley, now a cornerbacks coach at Mississippi. “When you add it up, it allows you to slow the game down and allows you to see the play before it happens.”

Alexander faces a particularly tough task Sunday at Tampa Bay.

Evans has six touchdown catches this season to match Minnesota’s Adam Thielen for the NFL lead. The Bucs also might have Godwin back. The 2019 Pro Bowl selection has practiced on a limited basis this week after missing the Bucs’ last two games with a hamstring injury.

It’s the kind of challenge that Alexander relishes.

“There’s no fear in Ja,” Rodgers said. “One of the beautiful things about him as a competitor is he doesn’t have that crippling fear of failure. He just believes that going out and competing and putting his best out on the field is true success. That’s a trait of every great competitor.”

___

More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Steve Megargee, The Associated Press

NFL

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