Being a substitute teacher is a very difficult task. First, you are asked to deal with students you usually don’t deal with. Then, you are asked to teach like the teacher you have been asked to replace. Even if you do the job correctly, you aren’t given the recognition you deserve. Last Thursday, against the Arizona Cardinals, the Green Bay Packers defense had their own substitute teacher. Jerry Gray was that substitute teacher and he helped the Green Bay Packers defense to a victory.
Green Bay Packers Defense Steps up With Substitute Coach Jerry Gray in Charge
Packers head coach Matt LaFleur found himself in a very difficult situation leading up to the Cardinals game. On offense, LaFleur found himself missing the services of key players. Wide receivers Davante Adams and Allen Lazard would miss the game due to COVID. Along with them, Marquez Valdes-Scantling would miss the game due to a hamstring injury he suffered early in the season. But that wasn’t the end of LaFleur’s worries.
Shortly after the Packers Week 7 victory over the Washington Football Team, defensive coordinator Joe Barry tested positive for COVID. That would mean LaFleur would need to find someone on his staff to coordinate the Packers defense. A defense that would be facing a then 7-0 Cardinals team with a very high octane offense.
Luckily for LaFleur, he had Jerry Gray on his staff. Not only is Jerry Gray one of the top defensive backs coaches in the NFL, but he has an extensive background in being an NFL defensive coordinator. Gray has eight years of defensive coordinating experience, with two different NFL teams. That experience with the Buffalo Bills and Washington, came in handy against the Cardinals. The results against Kyler Murray and the rest of the Cardinals are the proof.
Keeping Gray This Off-Season Pays off for LaFleur
There was a possibility that Jerry Gray could have been coaching elsewhere this season. This past off-season, LaFleur parted ways with former defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. When it came to looking at replacements for Pettine, Jerry Gray was one of the possible candidates. However, instead of promoting Gray, LaFleur chose Barry, the former Los Angeles Rams linebackers coach, to replace Pettine.
Similar to players, coaches have fairly large-sized egos. When Gray was passed over for the defensive coordinator position, he could have easily asked to be released from his contract. But instead, the professional that Gray is, he decided to stay with the Packers.
Jerry Gray might not have been promoted as the Packers defensive coordinator, but he did earn a promotion. LaFleur promoted Gray to defensive backs/passing game coordinator. While there is no doubt the promotion enticed Gray to stay, but it also benefitted the Packers. Gray’s performance as substitute defensive coordinator was impressive. But what he has done with the Packers defensive backfield is even more impressive.
Packers Secondary Standouts Benefitting From Jerry Gray
Alexander, a former first-round pick of the Packers, was already making a name for himself as a cover corner. But since Gray’s arrival, Alexander has taken another step. In 2020, Alexander had his best season yet. His play earned him a place on the list of top cover cornerbacks in the NFL. Before hurting his shoulder, which landed him on the injured reserve, Alexander was on pace for another strong season this season.
Before Jerry Gray’s arrival, Savage Jr. was still learning to play in the NFL. In his rookie season, the season prior to Gray coming over from the Minnesota Vikings, he intercepted just one pass. Along with that, he had struggles in coverage and also missed many tackles. Last season, his first with Gray, Savage Jr. saw his interception total jump to four. While he only has one pick this season, his overall play has improved. He is covering better and his tackling, which still needs improvement, has gotten better as well.
Alexander and Savage Jr have benefitted from Gray’s coaching. But they aren’t the only ones benefitting.
The Young and Disposed Seeing Results Under Gray
When Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst selected Stokes in the first round he knew what he was getting. That being an ultra-fast uber-talented cornerback who was still very raw. He understood that it would take time to mold Stokes into a starting NFL cornerback. But with King’s injury, the Green Bay Packers defense didn’t have time to let him develop. That is where Jerry Gray came in.
Stokes has had some tough moments. But even with the difficult times, the Packers have seen a lot of positives from the young corner. Gray has done a very good job with the raw prospect. He is putting Stokes in good positions and allowing him to use his speed. Stokes doesn’t have King’s experience or length, but he is using his God-given ability to make plays.
The savior from the victory over the Cardinals turned out to be cornerback Rasul Douglas. Douglas, who was signed off the Cardinals practice squad on October 6th, not only made the crucial play of the game, but he has stepped up for the Green Bay Packers secondary.
Joining an NFL team mid-season is difficult enough. But being asked to be a contributor is even more difficult. But that is what Douglas has done. Helping with Douglas learning the defense has been Jerry Gray. Gray has helped Douglas get up to speed and has gotten him ready to play.
Substitute Makes the Class His Own
Matt LaFleur has been given a lot of credit for the game plan he implemented against the Cardinals. It is a credit he rightly earned. But Jerry Gray should be given just as much credit for what he did with the Green Bay Packers defense.
Kyler Murray finished the game going 22 of 33 for 274 passing yards. The numbers might lead you to believe that the Packers defense struggled. But that wasn’t the case at all. While the yardage was impressive, the Packers defense forced Murray to throw two interceptions. They also held Murray to just 21 yards on the ground as well.
Forced into a very difficult situation, Jerry Gray did a very remarkable job. The substitute stepped in for the teacher and did a job that should be commended.
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