Kevin King might as well have played his rookie season with one arm tied behind his back, according to Joe Whitt.
And while the Green Bay Packers’ top draft pick has been praised this week for his toughness while playing through a painful left shoulder injury, his position coach thinks King never really got the chance to show his potential.
“You haven’t really seen the real Kevin King yet,” said Whitt, the Packers’ long-time cornerbacks coach.
King’s shoulder injury, which goes back to his college days at Washington, became an issue right away in training camp this summer. The 33rd overall pick in the draft missed two of the past three games because of it before the Packers shut him down this week. He was placed on injured reserve and was scheduled for surgery — the second on his left shoulder since his freshman year of college. King said he will have the surgery on Tuesday with Dr. James Andrews of Birmingham, Alabama.
“He’s a tough young man, no doubt about it,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “He’s been dealing with it for quite some time. Just playing with the harness and trying to gut it out, I think it speaks volumes. It just obviously got to a point there where it was time to do more scans and things like that, and the decision has been made for surgery.”
King said the surgery will be to repair his labrum, the same surgery he had in college. He estimated that his shoulder popped out of place “nine or 10 times” this season.
“It was something that was happening more frequently than not,” King said. “It came out, especially these last few games, it probably came out probably each game. So, yeah, it came to a point where they kind of just shut me down. It was hard because especially with something that I was trying to fight through, but in the end it got to the point where it was probably better to get it done.”
The Packers drafted King because of his size (6-foot-3), speed (4.43 in the 40) and arm length (32). They saw how the first two attributes could help him but never really got the chance to see how his long arms would help him jam receivers at the line of scrimmage, something Whitt loves in his corners when they’re playing press-man coverage.
“I know what he can be, but with him not being able to throw that arm — he has a chance to be a really, really good player,” Whitt said. “Once he’ll be able to throw and control people at the line of scrimmage the way that his length and his ability to be able to bend and move and do those types of things, once he gets that taken care of, you’re going to see a player that you’ll be really excited about. But you haven’t seen it yet.”
King did not record an interception in nine games this season.
“I think I had a pretty productive year even with the circumstances and everything,” King said. “Now I’m just trying to get healthy. I know I belong in this league. I proved that to myself and to the viewers. I know I can play at this level and at a high level. Now I’ve just got to get healthy and get the confidence back.”
King’s injury leaves the Packers short-handed in the secondary. They’re likely to be without fellow starting cornerback Davon House for Sunday’s game at Cleveland. House has a shoulder injury, too. Demetri Goodson, who was activated off PUP after his year-long recovery from a knee injury was completed and replaced King on the roster, has a hamstring injury.
It might force defensive coordinator Dom Capers to use safety Morgan Burnett as a slot cornerback for the second straight week because behind Damarious Randall and Josh Hawkins, the only other corners on the roster are undrafted rookies Lenzy Pipkins (who has played just 47 snaps all season) and Donatello Brown (zero snaps).
“[It's] kind of what we’ve been doing all year,” Capers said when asked about the cornerback position.
The same could be said for the past two years. In 2016, they lost No. 1 cornerback Sam Shields to a Week 1 concussion, and he never played again. They also dealt with injuries to Randall and Quinten Rollins (who is on injured reserve this season).
It’s why the Packers drafted King in the first place.
“That seems like that’s been the story the last two years,” Whitt said. “So it is what it is.”