Green Bay Packers cornerback Eric Stokes (21) plays against the...

Green Bay Packers cornerback Eric Stokes (21) plays against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 17, 2023, in Green Bay, Wis. Stokes is hopeful that his injuries are finally behind him as the 2021 first-round pick looks to recapture the promise he showed in his rookie season. Credit: AP/Jeffrey Phelps

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Green Bay Packers cornerback Eric Stokes is hopeful that his injuries are finally behind him as the 2021 first-round pick looks to recapture the promise he showed as a rookie.

“I feel like I’ve got something to prove,” said Stokes, who has played in just three games since his series of injuries began in a November 2022 loss at Detroit. "I just can’t wait to come out Week 1 and show everybody.”

Stokes has been practicing fully during the Packers’ organized team activities, an encouraging sign after all the adversity he’s faced over the past couple of seasons.

“I think he’s as good as I’ve ever seen him, both mentally and on the field,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. “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."

Stokes’ injury problems began Nov. 9, 2022, when he hurt his knee and foot in a 15-9 loss to the Detroit Lions. Those injuries kept him out for the remainder of that season.

Stokes finally returned on Oct. 22 of last season, but he played only four special teams snaps until a hamstring problem sidelined him again. He came back to play two games in December before the hamstring injury resulted in one more trip to injured reserve and kept him from participating in the playoffs.

During the offseason, Stokes and Packers wide receiver Christian Watson went to the University of Wisconsin’s Badger Athletic Performance center to try to find answers to their injury problems. Watson has missed 11 games because of hamstring issues over his first two pro seasons.

Stokes, 25, discovered how his foot issue had led to other injuries. His offseason training focused on addressing the problem.

“If one area’s weak, the other parts of your body are going to try to take control or put more workload on it,” Stokes said. “So that’s pretty much what’s been going on. My hamstring was taking so much workload that it just kept messing up.”

The Packers could use a bounce-back season from Stokes as they attempt to take the next step after going 10-9 and reaching the NFC divisional playoffs last season. The cornerback position shapes up as one of Green Bay’s major concerns as the defense adapts to new coordinator Jeff Hafley.

Green Bay hopes to get a full season of health from two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Jaire Alexander, who played in just seven of the Packers’ 17 regular-season games last season. The Packers re-signed two-time All-Pro kickoff returner Keisean Nixon, who figures to play nickel back again.

But they need someone to fill the cornerback spot opposite Alexander. The two most likely choices are Stokes and 2023 seventh-round pick Carrington Valentine, who played more than 62% of the Packers’ defensive snaps as a rookie last season. The Packers also return Corey Ballentine, who was on the field for nearly half of Green Bay’s defensive plays last season.

“We’ve got a lot of talent in that room, got a lot of guys competing,” defensive passing game coordinator Derrick Ansley said. “This group works like none I’ve been a part of. It’s very consistent work. It’s a healthy competition in the room. Lot of different skill sets, and it’s been a joy to work with those guys so far."

The Packers showed their confidence in Stokes’ ability to bounce back when they didn’t select a cornerback in this year’s draft until the seventh round, when they took Penn State’s Kalen King with the 255th overall pick.

Green Bay had taken Stokes out of Georgia with the 29th overall selection in the 2021 draft. Stokes made 14 starts in 2021 and had 14 passes defensed, matching the highest total for all rookies that season. But he started slowly the following season even before he got hurt.

He’s eager to show his rookie-year performance was no fluke.

“My confidence still high,” Stokes said. “At the end of the day, I know what I can do. Everything else, it is what it is. I just had to get back healthy. Now that I’m back healthy, everything else is good.”

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