Fully healthy, Packers Eric Stokes with ‘something to prove’ in 2024

By: Paul Bretl 5/30/24

At least from the outside looking in, there is quite a bit of uncertainty in regards to what to expect from Eric Stokes during the 2024 season. However, if the offseason is an indication of what’s in store, then a bounce-back season could be on the horizon.

“I think he’s as good as I’ve ever seen him,” said Matt LaFleur after Wednesday’s practice. “Both mentally and on the field. I want to temper the expectations with that, but I really mean that. He’s out there competing each and every day. He looks fully healthy. He’s doing a great job of challenging our wide receivers. He’s always in great faith.

“I think you see that personality is back. That’s tough on players when they’re going through an offseason not having opportunity to really build upon their bodies when you’re just focusing on rehabbing and getting healthy. He’s had a chance to really develop his body. He looks in great shape. I think the play says the same.”

Over the last two years, Stokes has played only 587 defensive snaps. His 2022 season was limited to just nine games after he suffered a season-ending foot injury. Then, in 2023, he played just 110 defensive snaps as he recovered from the foot injury early on while also dealing with various hamstring injuries throughout the year.

Along with wide receiver Christian Watson, the Packers sent Stokes to UW-Madison as well, to get to the root of his soft tissue issues. To summarize, with Stokes’ foot not at full strength, that put a heavier workload on his calf and hamstring, which contributed to the soft tissue injuries. So this offseason, the focus for Stokes has been on strengthening his foot and the areas around it.

“Yeah, so when we went down to Madison,” said Stokes at his locker, “just showed me everything to where like everything was equaling up for my foot to where like my foot wasn’t as strong as it needed to be, so that’s why it put more pressure on my hamstring, my calf and all that stuff, so it just showed me a lot of different little things and then I went back home, back where I train at in Atlanta.

“Basically we just trained hard and so like every day we doing calf raises, we doing hamstrings and stuff, we just attacking my legs and all that stuff day in and day out and now I come back, I feel even better. I feel like I’m faster than I was before, so it’s a lot of great new things.”

Stokes has an infectious aura about him. He’s easy to gravitate towards with his happy-go-lucky mindset and a laugh that can be heard throughout the locker room.

However, in dealing with the initial foot injury and then the setbacks that followed over the last season and a half, Stokes’ positivity was put to the test.

“Oh, it definitely took me time,” said Stokes on maintaining his positivity. “Definitely took me time. I would 110% agree with that. It took me time because of course from the start, I was mad. I was frustrated, everything just going wrong … but at the end of the day, it’s a bigger picture with everything. Like I know it was a lesson I had to go through for every little thing that I went through. Now it’s time to show.”

Of course, step No. 1 for Stokes is staying healthy and available. But after a stellar rookie season, prior to his Week 9 injury in 2022, he did find himself in a sophomore slump, which contributes to some of the unknowns around what to expect when he returns.

Through eight-plus games that season, Stokes allowed 21 completions on 25 targets at 13.1 yards per catch with no pass breakups or interceptions.

Part of the equation in getting Stokes back to his 2021 form will include Jeff Hafley as the defensive coordinator. Stokes mentioned that there are a lot of similarities between what Hafley is asking him to do and what he was asked to do while at Georgia, which includes more press man coverage.

On top of that, Hafley has been praised by past players for his ability to put together game plans that allow the defenders to play fast rather than overthink, along with his ability as a teacher and communicator.

“Oooooh, I love Hafley,” said Stokes. “I love Hafley. I love how his mindset is and everything, to where like he’s coming in. He just wants you to ball. He’s gonna put you in the positions. He ain’t gonna make you overthink anything and all that stuff.

“He just want you to go out there and have fun and just play 110 miles per hour and that’s what I love about Hafley, to where like he always say, ‘Imma go ahead and take the bullet. You just go out there and just have fun and you just play.”

The Packers are going to embrace competition at the cornerback position with the best player starting opposite of Jaire Alexander come Week 1. But, for the time being at least, it is Stokes working with the starting defense during OTA practices open to the media and not Carrington Valentine.

Stokes is entering the final year of his rookie deal and in early May, the Packers declined his fifth-year option for the 2025 season. After two injury-riddled seasons, Stokes believes he has something to prove and he appears to be on the right path towards doing so.

“I’ll always feel like I got something to prove,” added Stokes, “especially coming off two injuries, the two seasons I’ve had previous. I feel like I got something to prove. I just can’t wait to come out Week 1 and show everybody.”