GREEN BAY — Aaron Rodgers seemed amused.
Late last week, the Green Bay Packers quarterback was asked about the team’s young cornerback corps — a brash, confident crew that isn’t the least bit afraid of facing the two-time NFL MVP at practice each day.
And when the subject of trash talk came up, Rodgers acknowledged that he’s often the instigator.
“I walk past them every day at practice and kind of tease them a little bit and start some of the trash talk,” Rodgers said.
And when Rodgers decided to single out his biggest conversational adversary, it wasn’t former top picks Kevin King or Jaire Alexander he pointed to. Instead, it was another young cover man who entered the NFL under far less glamorous circumstances — but doesn’t back down from any challenge, including from a future Pro Football Hall of Famer.
“They’re always chirping, especially Tony Brown,” Rodgers said with a sly grin. “(He’s always) chirping about throwing to his side and giving (them) some work today, so I like to go after him.
“Jaire and Tony are probably the two biggest talkers over there, so any time you complete a ball on Tony, it’s nice — because he shuts up for a couple seconds. (But) I love the energy.”
During the annual Family Night event at Lambeau Field on Friday night, Brown gave Rodgers — and everyone else — something to really talk about. He picked off No. 2 quarterback DeShone Kizer on an out route intended for Equanimeous St. Brown and returned the ball 30 yards for a touchdown, finishing the play with a Lambeau Leap.
Although it didn’t come against Rodgers, it was the kind of play that can catapult a young player to a roster spot or a greater role because of the confidence boost it provides — for both the coaching staff, and for the player.
Brown also got extra snaps with the No. 1 defense during Sunday’s practice — meaning he got to go against Rodgers once again — while King was sidelined by a hamstring injury. Brown figures to get ample work during the next two days of joint practices with the Houston Texans and probably will start in Thursday’s preseason opener.
“Rodgers is one of the best in the league — if not the best in the league — at what he does. It’s like a game out there every day with me and Aaron,” Brown said. “I feel like it’s a blessing to go against Aaron every day, to go against his throws, (as well as) DeShone and Timmy Boyle, and Manny (Wilkins).
“I also do that with Aaron so I can get his best game. So he’s like, ‘I’m going to get him today.’ If I get Aaron’s best game and make a play on Aaron’s best game, then I can make a play on anybody’s best game.”
Asked if he thinks he’s gotten into Rodgers’ head, Brown smiled and replied, “I think I have.”
The Packers signed Brown to their practice squad last year after he was released by the Los Angeles Chargers on the final roster cutdown. He was promoted to the active roster less than a month later and ended up seeing action in 11 games, including three starts. He finished the year having played 287 snaps on defense (27%) and another 178 snaps on special teams — despite some costly penalties early on. He finished the year having registered 30 tackles (26 solo), two tackles for loss, a team-high two forced fumbles and five passes defensed while tying for third on the team with six special teams tackles.
Brown came out of Alabama with the talent and intellect to be drafted, and he even drew praise from Pro Football Hall of Famer and NFL Network analyst Deion Sanders during the annual NFL scouting combine. But a variety of disciplinary issues and at least three failed drug tests scared teams off, as did the poor judgment he sometimes showed, which seemed incongruous with his obvious intelligence. (He reportedly scored 31 on the Wonderlic intelligence test, and he graduated from Alabama in 3½ years.)
That meant trying to make it as an undrafted free agent, and Brown is working to build on the positives from last season.
“I feel like the mental side of the game has slowed down a little bit so I can let my physical abilities show a little more,” Brown said. “(Plus), this being my second year in the league, this is my second year in the same defense, which was a big thing for the defense as a whole and the guys who were here last year. So I didn’t have the big drop-off with having to learn a new defense. I was able to hit the ground running in the spring and use that momentum that I have.”
The 24-year-old Brown has also made a concerted effort to stay close to 36-year-old veteran defensive back Tramon Williams, who also entered the league as an undrafted free agent, stole the show at the 2007 Family Night scrimmage and went on to become one of the Packers’ top cover corners of the past two decades. While Williams helps all the young cornerbacks — even though he’s not as outspoken as they are in the trash-talking department — Brown has been an especially eager student.
“Tramon, he’s definitely like a big brother to me,” Brown said. “I don’t want to say it’s the same type of story, but I know Tramon started off with the Texans, got released, got picked up here like Week 9 or 10. I got released by the Chargers, I was undrafted, got picked up here Week 1, (later) made the team. So he’s like an inspiration to me.
“I look at Tramon, he’s the goal for me. He’s been in the league 14 years, oldest corner in the league. He’s so knowledgeable of the game, he has great character. He’s a guy I like to try to be around as much as possible, just to try to grab as much as I can from him so I can apply it to my game and be in the league as long as he has.”