Door wide open for rookie

Hodge gets golden opportunity to start for Packers

Unless he sustains a major injury, A.J. Hawk is all but destined to start at an outside linebacker position, probably weak-side, next to middle linebacker Nick Barnett. After the Packers released veteran starter Robert Thomas earlier this week, third-round draft pick Abdul Hodge will probably get every chance to start as the strong-side linebacker.

The Packers enter Friday's mini-camp with only two linebackers that finished the season on Green Bay's 53-man roster last year – Barnett and second-year pro Roy Manning. Brady Poppinga, who worked his way into the starting lineup late last season only to sustain a season-ending knee injury, will be back but won't be able to practice until training camp. Kurt Campbell also will be back after sitting out the season on injured reserve with a knee injury.

This off-season, the Packers parted ways with veteran Na'il Diggs, opted not to re-sign veteran free agent Paris Lenon and then released Thomas.

The Packers are hoping to get more plays out of their linebackers, and they may start by inserting Hawk and Hodge alongside Barnett. Hawk and Barnett have all the athletic ability to make the plays that have been absent from the linebacker corps in recent years. In Green Bay's defense, the strong-side linebacker is asked to help stop the run, and that's exactly where Hodge excelled while at Iowa, leading the Hawkeyes in tackles with a whopping total of 158 last year.

Hodge also has been durable, rarely missing a game – or play for that matter – while at Iowa. The biggest knock on Hodge is his size (6-foot, 234 pounds), and some experts skeptical on whether or not he will succeed at that size in the NFL.

"They said I was too slow. They said I wasn't tall enough. My main thing is I put on the field is production," Hodge said. "Once I line up in games, I'm going to prove that I can play. My production and the way I play, the mean streak I play makes up for all the things I don't have, and that's height."

Last year, the Packers got very little out of Diggs, and the coaching staff never appeared comfortable with him in the lineup when he was healthy. The Packers tried Manning, who made the team as an undrafted free agent, and Poppinga. Now it appears that they will give Hodge a golden opportunity to earn a starting spot, beginning this weekend.

Hodge's height and size may have hurt him during the draft weekend, and that's a good thing. He'll be playing with a chip on his shoulder, ready to prove his critics wrong.

"I know where I went I know the team is going to want me, the team is going to need me," Hodge said after he was asked if he was surprised about where he was picked. "Whatever team I went to, whatever round I get picked, I will give them more for their buck."

While Hawk is the "perfect fit" for Green Bay, Hodge may be as well.

Todd Korth

Todd Korth is managing editor of and Packer Report. E-mail him at

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