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Jaire Alexander has four interceptions in 44 regular-season games.

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GREEN BAY — Because of the wide, white-rimmed designer shades that hid his eyes behind almost opaque dark lenses, it was hard to tell just how emotional Jaire Alexander was getting Friday afternoon.

But the Green Bay Packers ultra-confident, occasionally brash, always fearless star cornerback — well-earned adjectives all after being named second-team All-Pro and selected for his first Pro Bowl last season — was definitely getting a little choked up just thinking about how far he’s come.

Not even recruited by any of the college programs in his home state of North Carolina — he started out as a receiver at West Charlotte High School before switching to corner at Rocky River High School in nearby Mint Hill — before landing at the University of Louisville, Alexander even spent most of his college career flying under the radar. At least until general manager Brian Gutekunst made Alexander his first official pick as GM in 2018.

Since then, Alexander’s game has steadily ascended to where he’s now considered one of the NFL’s best cover men — not just in real life, but in the gaming world after earning a 95 rating in this year’s edition of Madden Football (He was a 90 last year).

He has officially arrived.

“It meant a lot, you know?” Alexander said after a long pause. Then, he took a long, deep breath, and tried to resume. “You know … I’m just thankful that everyone else gets a chance to see what I always thought I was.

“I love the love. Because that’s something that was rarely received to me. It’s cool, but at the same time, it’s also humbling, because I know where I came from, so it always pushes me.”

And yet, when asked what he does for an encore after a breakout season that ended with two interceptions against the GOAT, Tom Brady, in the Packers’ season-ending NFC Championship Game loss to the eventual Super Bowl LV-champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Alexander replied, “The next step would be blocking out the noise.” (But not the noise of the original song he wrote about that game, though he refused to share the tune with reporters.)

Asked what that meant, Alexander’s answer was surprising: He had to block out all those accolades and affirmations he had so desperately chased over the years to prove to others what he believed about himself.

“Noise is just the praise,” Alexander said, lifting his hands off the podium to demonstrate his point.

“When people get, like, here” — Alexander raised his left hand to about eye level — “and the noise is also here” — he raised his right hand to that same level — “the more the noise interferes, then the play comes here” — he lowered his left hand to below his chest — “because of the noise.

“So I just plan on staying consistent. I know I’m the best. I’m sure a lot of people think I’m the best. But I know I’m the best, and that’s good enough for me. So, I’m just going to block out the noise that way.”

The 5-foot-10, 192-pound Alexander led the Packers in pass breakups for the third straight year last season (17) but managed only one regular-season interception — giving him just four in his career (not including the two against Brady on Jan. 24). Targeted just 80 times in the 15 regular-season games he played, Alexander allowed 41 completions for 375 yards and two touchdowns.

“There’s nothing Ja can’t do. He’s just a great player,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said Friday. “He’s got great movement skills, great instincts. He can play off, he can play bump. You guys have heard me talk about the energy he brings on a daily basis, and I think that’s pretty infectious. I think it has a humongous impact on our defense and on our football team.”

Now, despite being just 24 years old and entering his fourth season, Alexander will have to lead a young cornerbacks group that includes rookie first-round pick Eric Stokes and rookie fifth-rounder Shemar Jean-Charles, just as veteran Tramon Williams once did for him.

He also has to sustain his elite level of play with a potential blockbuster contract extension not too far off. The Packers picked up his fifth-year option for 2022 (a guaranteed $13.294 million) but will be looking to lock him up with a long-term extension, possibly before that option kicks in.

He’ll also be playing in a different system under new defensive coordinator Joe Barry. While Alexander has volunteered to play wherever Barry wants him, he’s likely to stay outside on an island — where he thrives.

“I don’t really look at it as pressure. I have strong faith in my abilities, and I have a bunch of confidence. A lot of times, I don’t really pay much attention to that stuff, because I know how good I am,” Alexander said. “It’s just another day, me vs. me. Just being the best.

“Those accolades meant a whole lot to me because that’s something that I’ve always been striving for, and once I got those accolades — All Pro, Pro Bowl — it made me feel like, ‘OK, I’m not the one being overlooked. I AM the one.’ And it just, it made me realize, like, watching all the greats at corner, I could be one of the greats. ‘I am the greatest’ — it’s just a form of affirmation that I say to myself that I believe in.”

Extra points

LaFleur said he is keeping quarterback Aaron Rodgers on a pitch count during training camp — for the first time in his 17-year career after missing the offseason program to demonstrate his unhappiness with the team’s front office — to protect his 37-year-old right arm. But LaFleur said with only three quarterbacks in camp — Rodgers, backup Jordan Love and third-stringer Kurt Benkert — instead of the usual four he’ll be monitoring even the young guys’ throws. “Having three quarterbacks, that’s a lot of wear and tear on the arm and we don’t want to burn ‘em out too early,” LaFleur said. “(Rodgers) and I did talk about exactly what number we’re looking for each day or being below a certain number. So we’ve got a guy out there that lets me know when we’re at that halfway mark, and then I relay that to Aaron.” … LaFleur expressed a measure of frustration that the Packers are below the NFL’s stated goal of having at least 85% of each team’s players vaccinated. “We’d like to be better, but I think we’ve made a lot of progress,” LaFleur said. “All we can do is try to educate the guys and tell them the protocols and the ramifications of being unvaccinated in terms of just the daily process that they have to go through. And the fines for them are not cheap.”

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This article originally ran on madison.com.

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