GREEN BAY – Through a series of misfortune and circumstance, the Packers wound up getting a good look at their two rookie second-round picks Sunday in Atlanta.
And they liked what they saw.
After combining to play all of six defensive snaps in Green Bay’s opener against Seattle, cornerback Kevin King and safety Josh Jones became fixtures in the Packers’ secondary during the second half of the eventual 34-23 loss to the Falcons.
King showed the speed and length that made him the 33rd overall pick in this year’s draft, holding his own against Julio Jones. He deflected one pass intended for the All-Pro receiver, while playing 46 of the defense’s 58 snaps.
The Packers have been patient with the 6-foot-3, 200-pound cornerback, who missed part of training camp with injuries and a majority of the offseason program due to Washington’s trimester system.
At the same time, it’s not unusual for the Packers to take a paced approach with a talented rookie. Casey Hayward played only three snaps in his debut against San Francisco in 2012 before becoming a finalist for NFL defensive rookie of the year.
Both Head Coach Mike McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers told reporters Monday evening King could be in line for more work on defense.
“I thought Kevin did a good job,” Capers said. “I think he continues to grow. We’re encouraged with his progress. He competes well. You saw him break up a couple balls on crossing routes. He’s not afraid to go up and challenge receivers. I like his style of play.”
Jones, the 61st overall pick, didn’t play a defensive snap against the Seahawks, but was thrown into Sunday’s game after Kentrell Brice exited with a groin injury and didn’t return.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound safety out of North Carolina State shot onto the scene during the offseason program, quickly developing a knack for being around the football.
Jones, who had four tackles against Atlanta, slid in next to Ha Ha Clinton-Dix on the back end, freeing veteran Morgan Burnett up to stay in his hybrid linebacker slot in the Packers’ nickel and dime sub-packages.
“As we go along, you see these young guys, their reps increase (as) they get more comfortable,” Capers said. “You want to be able to put them out there and have them have success. I think Kevin, each step you’ll see him get more reps as we go along here.
“Josh Jones, last night I thought he went in and did a nice job. He played more snaps than I think he’s played. Both of those guys, you’re going to see their reps increase.”
Already playing without recently signed outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks (concussion), the Packers’ pass rush took another hit when Mike Daniels left with a hamstring injury after the first series and didn’t return.
Injuries underscored a forgettable night for the Packers’ defense. Green Bay notched three sacks in third-down situations but struggled to quiet Jones and Mohamed Sanu (10 catches for 193 yards) and stop the Falcons’ running game (141 rushing yards, 5.2 yards per carry) without Daniels inside.
“He’s a difference-maker. You want as many difference-makers on the field as you can,” said Capers of Daniels. “All you have to do is go back a week and look at Mike’s performance against Seattle. It was a pretty dominant performance. Hopefully, we’ll get Mike healthy and back out there because we like to get Mike out on the field as much as we can.”
Linebackers Clay Matthews and Nick Perry were on the field together for 52 of the defense’s 58 snaps, with Matthews notching 1½ sacks to move within a ½ sack of Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila’s franchise record.
Matthews and Perry are tied with Daniels for the team lead in sacks (1½), while Green Bay currently is tied for ninth in the NFL with seven as a team through two games.
There’s no denying the absence of Daniels pushing the pocket inside was an extra hurdle Green Bay’s defense had to overcome in Sunday’s loss.
While his outlook for this week’s game against Cincinnati is uncertain – McCarthy didn’t have any updates on those injured in Atlanta – Daniels has been one of the most durable players on the entire roster.
The two-time Pro Bowl alternate hasn’t missed a game since Week 5 of his rookie season in 2012 en route to a streak of 87 consecutive games played (including playoffs).
“When you had a game like Mike had against Seattle, you’re going to get your opponent’s attention,” said Capers, referring to the seven tackles and 1½ sacks Daniels had a week earlier against the Seahawks.
“They’re not going to want to be in a lot of one-on-one situations. Anytime they can get help, that’s what you normally see if a guy has a good game. That’s the way this league is. People study the tape and respond to what they see on tape. Nick had a fairly dominant game against Seattle as well. I thought Clay came back and Clay played better here last night.”