LAST FLIGHT FOR A. J. HAWK?
By Jerry Gilbert
In 2010, with first round draft choices Nick Barnett and A.J. Hawk manning the middle of the Green Bay Packer defense, inside linebacker was viewed as one of the most stable positions on the team. At that time, Brandon Chillar and Desmond Bishop provided solid veteran reserves. Inside linebacker was a position of strength and the group played pretty well in the 2010 Super Bowl season despite season ending injuries to Barnett and Chillar. The success of the group was largely due to the emergence of Desmond Bishop as a difference maker on the defense.
2011was a different story. Barnett was not considered to be worth his salary, and he was released. Chillar could not at that time pass a physical and he too was cut. That left the unit with only hawk and Bishop along with unproven street free agents. In the 2011 college draft, General Manager Ted Thompson added small school prospect D.J. Smith, who, due to the lockout, and like all other prospects that year, entered the season with very little preseason training or experience. Nevertheless, Smith performed at about the level of the other linebackers when he got a chance to play. Some fans and commentators began to call for Smith toe replace Hawk in the starting lineup. Smith became almost as popular as an unknown backup quarterback when the starter is having problems.
One problem with evaluating the play of A. J Hawk, or for that matter DJ Smith, last year is that the entire defense was out of sync. Not a veteran player on the unit can be said to have had his best season. The Packer defense in 2011, missed assignments, missed tackles and generally played at a level that must have embarrassed them as professionals. Only the coaches with their experience and film library can evaluate the extent to which any player may have looked bad because of the need to cover up for the weakness of his teammates. For example, it is possible that Safety Morgan Burnett looked a little worse than he really was because of the times that players who were not his responsibility were running free because a teammate had blundered. A defense succeeds and fails as a unit.