Matt LaFleur didn’t waste time going into enemy territory for resources. According to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal, the Green Bay Packers are hiring Jerry Gray to coach their defensive backs, replacing Jason Simmons. Gray coached the same position for the Minnesota Vikings for the past six seasons and will add a new perspective to Mike Pettine’s system.
Gray also served as a defensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills (2001-2005) and Tennessee Titans (2011-2013).
During his time in Minnesota, Gray learned from one of the NFL’s best defensive minds in Mike Zimmer, where the secondary has been an integral part of the Vikings’ success. Safety Harrison Smith has played at All-Pro level, and corner Xavier Rhodes was recently named, although probably undeserving, to his third Pro Bowl.
Gray’s impact could also be sensed through the progression of safety Anthony Harris. The former undrafted free agent steadily improved every season since entering the league in 2015. Last year Harris co-led the NFL with six interceptions.
If Gray can help hone and develop the Packers defensive group in a similar fashion, they will be better off. The current group didn’t necessarily play badly in 2019, but there is room for improvement.
Kevin King had a team-high five interceptions but could still use more consistency defending deep routes. And, while Jaire Alexander appeared to take a step in the right direction in his second season, he has more work to do to reach the All-Pro standard he holds himself to.
Hopefully, Gray can also help bring other players up to their full potential including Darnell Savage, Raven Greene, Josh Jackson, Ka’Dar Hollman, and Chandon Sullivan.
Overall the Packers have an encouraging group, but they need to be challenged more. For as talented as they appear on paper, the defense finished in the middle of the pack (14th) in defending the pass.
Many wondered if Pettine would be out after season considering he was hired prior to LaFleur. However, hours after LaFleur’s season-ending press conference it was announced Pettine was staying.
How short of a leash LaFleur keeps on his coaches is still unknown. If 2020 goes south and the team wants to a changing of the guard on defense, Gray would likely be a top candidate to replace Pettine.
___________________Brandon Carwile was a Cheesehead at birth. His dad grew up attending games at Lambeau and passed on the legacy. He has covered the Packers for over five years and currently works with packerstalk.com. Find him on twitter at @PackerScribe.