Frankenstein's out, so Hawk likely in
By JASON WILDE
GREEN BAY – If Winston Moss had his way, he would turn one of the rooms somewhere in the bowels of Lambeau Field into his own laboratory and somehow meld A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop into the perfect inside linebacker for the Green Bay Packers’ 3-4 defense.
“Get a little Frankenstein,” Moss said, somehow not cackling like a mad scientist as he said it. “Take a part off this guy here, borrow from this guy there and get one player. Whatever it takes.”
Since that’s not an option, the Packers inside linebackers coach will have to make do with one – or both – of them filling in as the inside linebacker alongside Nick Barnett in the team’s nickel alignment with Brandon Chillar having been ruled out of Sunday’s game at Tampa Bay with a broken hand, which he suffered last Sunday against Minnesota.
The problem for the Packers is that both Hawk and Bishop have appealing qualities, but each lacks what the other one provides. Whereas Bishop has proven in preseason games and in his limited regular-season opportunities last year that he can generate big plays, he isn’t as reliable and makes more mistakes. While Hawk is impeccable with his assignments and always on top of his defensive responsibilities, he rarely delivers a big hit or forces a turnover.
“Here is exactly what Desmond is: Desmond is a very aggressive football player. And he goes for the play. That’s why he’s had a lot of success making plays,” Moss said. “Sometimes it’s not in the best scheme of the defense. So that has to be taken into consideration, because you want playmakers on the field. So we as a staff have to make a judgment on risk and reward.
“A.J. is more of your assignment-conscious, a got-to-be-right (type). He’s a very prideful guy. He doesn’t like being told he’s wrong. So it’s very important to him to be right.”
On Monday, coach Mike McCarthy said Hawk, who has played only in the base defense since Barnett was medically cleared to play all the defensive snaps, played well in his 25 plays against the Vikings. McCarthy said he is “very comfortable” with Hawk because he’s “been very consistent. Desmond has made some big plays, but I like the consistency of A.J."
One play in particular likely led to that remark.
Bishop took over against the Vikings when Chillar was injured in the first half, and he was at fault on the screen pass running back Adrian Peterson turned into a 44-yard gain during the fourth quarter to set up the Vikings’ final touchdown. Bishop had outside containment on the play but found himself out of position in the middle of the field and was blocked by left guard Steve Hutchinson, allowing Peterson to sprint up the sideline untouched.
As of Thursday, the coaches had not said whether Hawk or Bishop would assume Chillar’s snaps. Hawk said he, Bishop and Barnett had all been working in the nickel package in practice. Nonetheless, the smart money is on Hawk taking over for Chillar, who underwent surgery on Monday and could return Nov. 15 against Dallas wearing a club cast to protect his hand.
“All three of us have been rotating. We’ve all been playing almost every position in base and the nickel,” Hawk said. “We’re all trying to learn everything in case anything happens we can all be ready.”
Being ready for a situation such as this was Hawk’s goal after playing a not-so-grand total of 30 snaps over a two-game span and spending more time on the bench during those two weeks than he had during his four-year college career at Ohio State.
Several times, Hawk said that he couldn’t let any disappointment affect him, because if he did, he wouldn’t be ready if the opportunity to re-engage in the defense arose.
That opportunity is now.
“Hopefully I’m on the field a lot. That’s the plan. But I know going in that I’m prepared for either way, whatever happens,” said Hawk, who had a team-high 10 tackles against Cleveland two weeks ago, when he played 34 snaps. “You like to be out there and get a rhythm, get a feel for the game, how they’re trying to attack you and what they’re doing. That definitely helps. That’s in a perfect world, I guess you’d say. If you had a choice, that’s how it’d be. But you have to be ready.”
Hawk said his limited role this season hasn’t impacted his confidence – “Believe me, I don’t think anyone could ever change how I feel about what I can do on the field,” he said – but admitted that he understands what Moss is talking about when he suggests that Hawk needs to find a way to make more plays while he also maintains his conscientious approach to his assignments.
“We’ve talked about just finding ways when you can make some impact plays and trying to find a way to be a good consistent player but also making some big plays each game,” Hawk said. “That’s kind of the balance you’re trying (for). So you try to find a way to be able to do both and not cause any big mistakes.”
Asked if he feels he has something to prove while he replaces Chillar, Hawk replied, “No, I don’t look at it like that. Yeah, I hope to be in there more, obviously, but I’m not going into it trying to prove anything or prove that I should be in or anything like that. That has nothing to do with it. I’m just going to go in there and try to help the team win.”