DENVER – Kentrell Brice could almost count the blades of grass separating the Packers safety from finding the end zone for the first time in his NFL career on Saturday night.
However, a 42-yard interception return wasn’t too bad a consolation prize, either.
Brice made the play of night during Green Bay’s third preseason game, picking off an overthrown pass from Denver quarterback Trevor Siemian in the first quarter and returning it all the way back to the Broncos’ 2-yard line.
While the Packers ultimately dropped their first preseason contest in a 20-17 defeat at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Brice’s interception set the table for running back Ty Montgomery to score a 2-yard touchdown to give Green Bay a 10-0 lead at the time.
Brice, who made a spot start for Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, was tripped up just short of goal line, which his fellow safeties had a good time with once Brice returned to the sideline.
“I was messing with him,” Packers veteran safety Morgan Burnett said. “I don’t know if the altitude had something to do with it. I thought he was going to score, though. We always joke about who has return skills in the room. I think we’re going to joke with him a little bit.”
With Clinton-Dix being held out for precautionary reasons with knee soreness, it afforded both Brice and fellow second-year safety Marwin Evans extra snaps in the Packers’ secondary.
Both had to contend with Mile High’s elevation. Brice, who wears a visor, left momentarily midway through the game due in part to the thin air before returning later in the game.
There wasn’t any drop-off when Evans was on the field. As has been the case for most of the preseason, the Milwaukee native once again made a strong impression with two tackles (one for a loss) and two deflections, both on third down.
Evans nearly grabbed his second interception of the preseason in the fourth quarter. Although Evans couldn’t pull in the pass from Broncos backup quarterback Kyle Stoler, the deflection forced a Denver punt with a little less than 6 minutes remaining and the Packers trailing by 3.
Through three games, Evans leads the defense with 15 tackles and three passes defensed.
“I’d say it being my second year getting more comfortable and being more confident and knowing you can play with these guys in the league,” Evans said of the reasons behind his progress. “(I’m) not overthinking it, I guess you could say.”
The Packers sent some shockwaves through the NFL last summer when they kept six safeties on their opening 53-man roster, but Brice and Evans have continued to prove the Packers right.
Despite competing against each other for a roster spot last year, the two have become good friends. They room together whether it’s on the road or back in Green Bay the night before home games.
With Burnett moving into the box in the “Nitro” nickel and dime packages, Green Bay’s secondary has looked to Brice and Evans to provide depth on the back end next to Clinton-Dix.
“It doesn’t shock me to see them go out there and make plays because they’re very much capable of doing it,” Burnett said. “Just to be able to showcase it tonight for other people to see it, that’s icing on the cake and just shows you their versatility, shows you their athletic ability to make plays in the run, make plays deep and make plays on the ball.”
The Packers drafted another safety, Josh Jones, in the second round of this year’s NFL Draft, but Brice and Evans have continued to work their way into the lineup this preseason. Both also have been staples on the Packers’ No. 1 special-teams units.
The only thing missing now is the end zone. Safeties coach Darren Perry likes to joke with his guys about needing to score after interceptions. Knowing close he came Saturday night, Brice is already bracing himself for the film review.
“I was trying. I was trying,” said Brice with a smile. “It was very close, but it means there’s room for next time.”
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