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Most Important Packers of 2012 -- #20: Desmond Bishop, ILB

Jul 05, 2012 -- 9:38pm
 
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GREEN BAY – On a defense that often found itself troublingly devoid of playmakers last season, Desmond Bishop was a notable exception.

Not only did the Green Bay Packers’ 32nd-ranked defense finish dead last in yards allowed in 2011, but with the exception for the unit’s uncanny – and impressive – ability to intercept passes (an NFL-high 31, which was eight more than the two teams with the second most), the group also failed to make what the defensive coaches call “splash” or “impact” plays.

The team’s 29 sacks ranked 27th in the league, and no team had a worse sack percentage (sacks per dropback) than the Packers’ 4.28 percent. Meanwhile, for all their interceptions, the unit forced just 12 fumbles, recovering six.

Then, there was Bishop.

Despite missing three games with a calf strain suffered in Detroit on Thanksgiving, Bishop led the Packers with 142 tackles (including a team-best 109 solo) and registered five sacks, good for second-most on the team (to Clay Matthews’ five). He also forced two fumbles, tied for second on the team (behind Matthews’ three).

And according to ProFootballFocus.com, on self-described bad-tackling team, Bishop was among the NFL’s best linebackers in tackling efficiency over the past three years. Playing 1,624 snaps – he didn’t become a full-time starter until Nick Barnett’s 2010 wrist injury opened the door – over the past three seasons, Bishop missed just 14 tackles by ProFootballFocus.com’s count, ranking him 12 th in the NFL among linebackers with one miss per every 16.1 tackle attempts.

“If he maxes out his potential, talent and skill set, he’s as good as any linebacker in the league,” inside linebackers coach Winston Moss said. “He can cover, he can blitz and he can stuff the run.”

While Bishop’s primary backup at “Mack” linebacker, D.J. Smith, was also productive (38 tackles, one interception in three starts), the defense still missed Bishop’s playmaking while he was sidelined. Bishop had his five sacks in the first nine games of the season; in the final two regular-season games after his injury, he had a 15-tackle game against Chicago and forced a fumble against Detroit but was relatively quiet otherwise.

And with fellow inside linebacker A.J. Hawk, who starts at “Buck” linebacker, making very few plays (1.5 sacks, zero interceptions, zero fumbles forced or recovered last season), Bishop’s ability to alter games and shift momentum is vital.

“I mean, he can make impact plays,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “You saw on his sack (against Denver) where he didn't hesitate and came and made the sack. You saw on run plays, once he saw the seam, he hit the seam and made an impact play. We like the way Desmond is playing.”

Every day until players report to training camp on July 25 at St. Norbert College in De Pere, ESPNWisconsin.com will feature one of the 20 most important Packers players to the team’s fortunes in 2012. Agree? Disagree? Want to debate? Do it here in the comment section, or via Twitter.

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