A week after Hawk watched from the sideline as the Green Bay Packers went exclusively with their nickel and dime packages against a pass-centric Eagles offense, he was an integral part of the defensive attack against a run-happy Buffalo team in a 34-7 home-opening victory. And the player that has made "solid" and "assignment-sure" seem like dirty words responded in typical fashion: a nine-tackle performance that tied for the team lead and a pressure on the quarterback that led to a third-quarter interception by teammate Brandon Chillar.
Not only was Hawk active in the base scheme, and 1-5-5 Psycho package that brings pressure from everywhere but Section 102, he was part of a new defensive wrinkle — a "big" nickel package with 340-pound defensive end Ryan Pickett (also not part of the normal nickel look) that was used to provide a stouter presence against the Bills' running plays from three-wide receiver sets.
"I approached it just like I did any other week," Hawk said. "I didn't approach anything different. Just approached the game the same way I did last week, even though I didn't get in. I don't know. I had a good time this week at practice and everything and I guess from everything going on from outside the stadium, I'm at least kind of sheltered from it just because I choose to be. It's fine. Inside the stadium and at the facility, I feel great.
"I wasn't out for revenge or to make up for anything that happened, but I was glad to play and be part of the plan, and I think we put in some good packages today and a lot of people got to make plays."
It's hard to pinpoint the exact moment when Hawk became a green and gold version of Rodney Dangerfield (that's right, no respect), but it's likely tied in with the emergence of Chillar, a former fourth-round pick of the St. Louis Rams who arrived as a free agent in 2008 and quickly established himself as the team's best cover linebacker. For all the things Hawk does well, covering a tight end isn't one of them.
A.J. Hawk got off the bench and was typically productive vs. Buffalo.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Hawk was billed as the "safest" pick in the draft after a standout career at Ohio State, where he terrorized Big Ten opponents. Depending on your interpretation, he's been just that. He was a member of the NFL's No. 1 defense against the run last year, and has either led or finished second in tackles in each of his four seasons. He has played in all 66 games since arriving in Green Bay and started 63 of them — with the three non-starts coming when the team opened in nickel.
For his career, Hawk's racked up 502 tackles (352 solo), 8.5 sacks, five interceptions, 20 passes defensed, two forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries. That's not bad. And despite the reduced reps in 2009, he was one of only 10 linebackers in the NFL to post at least 85 tackles, two picks and a sack. Hawk is durable, works hard, hustles, is humble, and loves football. He's exactly the kind of guy you want to root for as a Packer. Not every player gets to the NFL and is actually more dominating than he was in college, ala Clay Matthews. Some players go from spectacular to solid. Sorry folks, that's not a bust, no matter where you're picked.
With defensive coordinator Dom Capers going to a level of specialization on defense rarely seen with little nickels, big nickels, psychos and more, how much Hawk plays will depend on what the opposing offense is going to show and how he'll fit in to countering that attack. This Monday night in Chicago, Hawk may well be back on the sideline as Green Bay works to shut down a suddenly resurgent Bears passing game. It's a fact he knows all too well. But as long as their schedule features matchups with backs like Adrian Peterson, Ronnie Brown and Frank Gore, Hawk will have a role.
"Obviously, anytime you're not on the field, I think any guy in the locker room would tell you, I don't know if you'd call it frustrating, I think that's just how it is," Hawk said. "All you can do is when you're out there, try to make an impression and make some plays, and do your job.
"But the good thing is, we have a ton of good players on this team, and that's a good problem to have. It's a lot better to have too much talent than too little."
If you're paying attention, you'll see that Hawk is one of those good, talented players, too.
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W. Keith Roerdink has covered the Packers since 1992. E-mail him at email@example.com.