GREEN BAY – Kevin King envisioned this moment in his mind. He replayed it over and over in the days leading up to the Packers traveling to face the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.
It wasn’t a given the rookie second-round pick out of Washington would even play at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but King was going to be ready if called upon.
Even if that meant lining up across from four-time Pro Bowl receiver Julio Jones.
“He’s not scared of anyone,” cornerback Davon House said. “I remember a few times he was like, ‘Put me on Julio. Put me on Julio.’ At cornerback, if you have that in you, everything else is going to take care of itself.”
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound cornerback got what he desired. After seeing only six defensive snaps in the Packers’ opener against Seattle, King played 46 snaps against the Falcons with a good amount of those coming against Jones.
Tuning out a crowd of more than 70,000, King stuck to his fundamentals, trusted his instincts and did what he’s always done in helping the Packers’ defense contain Jones to a single catch in the second half.
For his efforts, King even recorded his first official NFL pass deflection in coverage on Jones during the second quarter, helping Green Bay’s defense earn a three-and-out on the series.
His length and speed helped throw a wrench in the deep crossing patterns the Falcons had success with earlier in the game. King showed his physicality, too, in picking up three tackles.
“I get out on the field, and we call a man call and Julio comes out there, I didn’t have (nerves),” King said. “My mind wasn’t like, ‘Oh (shoot).’ My mind was like, ‘Oh (shoot), let’s go.’ After I felt that way, in my head I knew I was going to play well because my mind was right.”
Confidence is key for King, but it’s not something he just wakes up with every morning. His brand of sureness comes from preparation and belief – in both God and his abilities.
It’s a foundation King credits his parents for setting, an understanding he must continually hone his craft to be ready for whoever is thrown at him on game day.
Those lessons were critical to his college success at Washington, where he starred in practically every position in the secondary during his four years with the Huskies.
When his number was called Sunday against the Falcons, King didn’t make the stage any bigger than it needed to be. He wasn’t going to change his technique whether it was Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel or Jones across from him.
“It’s really just focusing on yourself,” King said. “No matter who I’m going against, I’m going to play how I play and do what got me here. I’m going to go out there and I’m going to trust it because regardless that 3-hour game is going to go by whether I play well or not, it’s going to go by so I might as well play my best.”
Due to Washington’s trimester system, King wasn’t able to attend a majority of the Packers’ offseason program. He also missed some time during training camp with a shoulder injury.
King was proactive in catching up on the defense and impressed cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt Jr. with his work ethic. Taking a page out of House’s playbook, King routinely spent time after practice working with receivers Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams on his releases.
“His attention to detail, like I’ve said from the beginning, is there,” Adams said. “Him figuring out where he fits in on the defense is a lot for him, let alone all the new plays and tasks he’s asked, but he’s been doing a good job with it, and I feel like he’ll continue to do that, the more focused he stays and the more he keeps trying to learn.”
Head Coach Mike McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers praised King’s performance against the Falcons and suggested the rookie cornerback could be in line for more during this Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Bengals’ offense has been off to a slow start, scoring only nine points in the first two games of the season. However, Cincinnati boasts another of the league’s top receivers in A.J. Green, a Pro Bowl selection in each of his six NFL seasons.
The Bengals also used the ninth overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft on one of King’s former Washington teammates, John Ross, who ran a record-breaking 4.22-second time in the 40-yard dash at February’s NFL Scouting Combine.
The Packers were down one cornerback during Wednesday’s practice, with House sitting out with the quad injury he sustained in Atlanta. While House told reporters after practice he doesn’t believe the injury is that bad, it’s uncertain what his availability will be Sunday.
King will be ready regardless of the circumstances. If he’s called upon to line up against Green or his former teammate Ross, King maintains the same mindset – it’s just another receiver who must be respected and contained.
“I just try to stay the course,” King said. “I can respond from this game two different ways – I can think, ‘Oh yeah, I’m whatever’ and then the Bengals go for I don’t know how many yards on me. It doesn’t matter if I don’t do it again and again and again. It’s a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately type deal.”