GREEN BAY — Late last season, after the pain and limited functionality in his bum left shoulder had landed rookie cornerback Kevin King on season-ending injured reserve, Joe Whitt wanted to make something clear to Green Bay Packers fans.
“You haven’t really seen the real Kevin King yet,” Whitt said then.
King, whose shoulder problems dated back to his time in college at Washington, was in and out of the lineup during his first NFL season because of how frequently the shoulder was an issue. He’d come out of games because he couldn’t lift his left arm above his head, or because he couldn’t use it to tackle an oncoming ballcarrier. He’d stretch it out on the sideline, get it working again and return to the game, but he still wound up missing seven games and parts of several others.
As the team’s top draft pick (No. 33 overall, the first pick of the second round), King was supposed to help fix a leaky secondary but was never healthy enough to be on the field consistently and improve as the coaches had hoped.
Surgery performed by famed orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews in December to repair his torn labrum prevented King from being full-go throughout organized team activity practices and minicamp this offseason. While he was watching, the team’s decision to take cornerbacks with its first two draft picks — Louisville’s Jaire Alexander in the first round and Iowa’s Josh Jackson in the second — and the return of veteran Tramon Williams got all the attention.
And that’s fine with King — and Whitt.
“Hopefully he’ll be full go in training camp,” said Whitt, the team’s longtime cornerbacks coach who was promoted to defensive passing game coordinator this offseason. “He’s been really attentive. He’s worked his butt off. The guys in the (weight) room are just raving about the way his work ethic hasn’t necessarily changed, but from Year 1 to 2 you grow up, and he’s matured that way.”
He’s also been studious while limited in his on-field work.
“He’s been in Tramon Williams’ back pocket the whole time, learning not just necessarily the defense, but how to be a pro and how to be in the league 13 years,” Whitt said. “So he’s doing everything.
“He’s been in my back pocket, ‘Hey, Joe, what’s the defense here?’ Because he hasn’t been on the field, but he wants to know what every call is. He wants to communicate with myself and (secondary coach) Jason (Simmons) and make sure that he understands the checks on the side so he can get mental reps each time.
“You’ll see the real Kevin King come training camp.”
The Packers certainly hope so, and think the real King will be a difference-maker for them.
Even with the bad shoulder, the 6-foot-3, 200-pound King showed how he can use his length to his advantage as a press-man cover corner, and he exhibited a willingness to be physical as a tackler. The Packers’ hope is that with a healthy shoulder, he can do more of both.
“It’s a process. It’ll come. I know it’ll come,” King said. “That’s kind of just the way I play. Believe it or not, it kind of hurts less being the hammer and not the nail, in a sense.”
King said he spent most of the offseason focused on learning new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s playbook, knowing that whatever advantage he had because of his one year head start on Alexander and Jackson had been erased with the firing of previous coordinator Dom Capers and a new system being installed.
Physically, King said he was intent on being in peak shape for camp and wanted to regain whatever strength surgery had taken from him. Perhaps that’s why he often could be found on the defensive sideline doing push-ups between plays — a practice he said his father instilled in him after reading about how old-school running back Herschel Walker used to do thousands of push-ups and sit-ups each day.
“(The goal is) get as healthy as I can. Body-wise, trying to get in the best shape that I can, trying to be able to rock and play ‘zero man’ (coverage) every play and not get taken out.” King said.
“Any time you have an injury, it’s just you against you. So, really, I haven’t been able to exercise my body this much. I just exercise my mind.
“It’s always an emphasis every offseason to come back better. Come back bigger, stronger, faster. That’s always an emphasis. Because the rest of the guys in the league are doing the same thing. If I stay the same and I plateau, I wouldn’t be getting no better. Regardless if I have a shoulder injury or not, that’s always a goal to go out there get as strong as possible, get in the best shape of my life, come into my body a little bit, try to get my grown-man strength.”