Jaire Alexander’s return provokes potentially difficult future questions for Packers

Packers Wire

Green Bay Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander returned to practice on Wednesday, but that doesn’t mean he will or even could play this week against the Chicago Bears.

The Packers need to be smart with their top corner, who hasn’t played since suffering a shoulder injury in Week 4. Alexander avoided season-ending surgery to repair his AC joint, instead opting for rest and immobilization. Shoulders are highly vulnerable, especially for someone with Alexander’s frame and physical play style. Reaggravating the injury could end Alexander’s 2021 season for good.

Multiple other factors could allow Alexander to take ample time before making a full return.

During Alexander’s absence, the Packers have seen growth from first-round pick Eric Stokes. The rookie has gained valuable experience at outside corner, playing over 98 percent of the defensive snaps since Week 3. In the same game in which Alexander was injured, Stokes stepped up and made the game-sealing interception off Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

According to Pro Football Focus, Stokes has allowed a reception percentage of 51.5 despite being the most targeted rookie corner this season. He is also tied for the lead among rookie corners with seven pass breakups.

Opposite Stokes, corner Rasul Douglas has been one of the Packers’ best playmakers. Douglas was named Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against the Los Angeles Rams. He returned an interception for a touchdown and also made six tackles to go along with four pass defenses. Douglas also made the game-winning interception to defeat the Arizona Cardinals in Week 8.

Once Alexander does return to the lineup, Green Bay will have to find a healthy balance for their corner group. There is the possibility of playing Alexander inside with Stokes and Douglas not losing their spots. However, moving Alexander to nickel would require him to be a key contributor on run defense, which could put more strain on his shoulder. Perhaps this job is better suited for Douglas, who has proven to be a reliable tackler but has predominately played outside his entire career.

Green Bay has some tough decisions to make when it comes to Alexander’s health and eventual return. It could send a reliable player to the bench, but the good news is they will return one of their best defensive players. The team has 21 days to elevate Alexander to the active roster or shut him down for the rest of the season.