With an uncluttered mind and a license to roam, Hawk is shaping into more of a playmaker this summer - not just a tackler. Through three weeks of training camp, no player has wreaked more havoc than Hawk in the Packers' training camp.
During Tuesday morning's practice, on a short pass by Brett Favre across the middle, Hawk crept toward the line, tipped the ball and hung on for an interception. Multiple times during the evening practice he chased down Brandon Jackson and Corey White from the weak side to make the tackle.
Hawk's improved reaction speed is a direct result of Bob Sanders' system. The defensive coordinator is molding a unit that puts Hawk in advantageous situations. Adjacent to Nick Barnett, Hawk can take more chances, too.
"We think the coaching staff is putting us in positions to make plays and we can do it," Hawk said. "Being familiar with every guy on this defense helps. Our communication is great right now. In the type of defense we play, communication is huge. We're talking all the time to make sure that everybody knows what's going on."
Last season the Packers' defense was Gaylord Focker-like - a terrifying amount of ups and downs with a taste of success at the end. After surrendering at least 34 points in three straight games, the unit finished on a rampage. Four straight wins. Three touchdowns allowed. No Robert De Niro in sight.
As the centerpiece of the defense, Hawk realizes the hype and expectations surrounding the unit this season.
"Our potential is huge," he said. "We just have to make sure we live up to it."
Editor's note: To check out A.J Hawk and the rest of the "Top 10 Defenders Under 25" on SI.com Click here
Offensive Play of the Day
If there is one rule of thumb to the zone-blocking scheme, it's to ‘keep it inside.' Mike McCarthy noted that Brandon Jackson's early troubles at Pittsburgh reflected his tendency to take runs outside. The entire scheme is dependent on the back patiently waiting a split-second for a lane to form between the tackles. It's natural to jump the gun and ride the play outside, which Jackson did a handful of times last Saturday.
On Tuesday, Jackson took baby steps toward breaking this habit.
During an 11-on-11 segment, Jackson took a handoff to the left (selling the play in that direction) and used his peripheral vision to check his rushing lane. As the offensive line washed down the defensive line, Jackson cut inside Mark Tauscher's left hip for a 10-yard gain.
Instincts can be taught, as Jackson is slowly proving.
Defensive Play of the Day
The coaching staff has stuck with cornerback Patrick Dendy as the team's No. 3 cornerback throughout camp.
One supremely athletic individual effort on Tuesday night justified this confidence.
Quarterback Paul Thompson took a five-step drop and fired a 30-yard go-route to Shaun Bodiford, who had a step on Dendy. But as the ball dropped in Bodiford's lap, Dendy quickly closed in and punched it out for an incompletion.
Stock is Rising
Saturday night against Seattle, McCarthy plans on putting Paul Thompson to the test for a full fourth quarter of reps.
Tuesday night, he gave him a preview, as the ex-Sooner received extensive 11-on-11 work. After starting with two poor throws, Thompson got hot.
On his third pass, he zipped a 10-yard in to Carlton Brewster with Antonio Malone guarding the receiver closely. The next play, Thompson completed the exact same pass to James Jones on the other side, in stride again.
Thompson wasn't perfect. A couple of his throws in the drill were high, but his arm strength is definitely a cut above. After battling the No. 2 defense for awhile, McCarthy threw the No. 1 ‘D' at Thompson's third team. And Thompson threaded the needle to James Jones. One more pat of the ball and the pass would have easily been picked off by Marquand Manuel.
Thompson is adapting to the speed of the pro game.
"I think he's getting better," said McCarthy. "He was up and down today. He's got to get ready. He's got a big night ahead of him. Saturday night will be a big opportunity for him, playing the fourth quarter. There are some things he's comfortable doing. The ball comes out of his hand with anticipation and urgency, but he's not comfortable yet. He's probably not where he wants to be right now, but he's getting better."
Stock is Falling
Time is ticking for DeShawn Wynn.
The seventh round pick couldn't have asked for a better scenario. He entered camp with five competitors. Two are on the shelf. One is an undrafted free agent pickup. The other two have done little to stand out.
Wynn could have been the darkhorse that won the running back derby. Unfortunately injuries have ravaged his first NFL training camp. Wynn missed the beginning of camp with a stomach virus, returned briefly, then suffered a strained quadriceps last week and has yet to return.
"[Wynn] needs to get back out here," McCarthy said. "I know he made some progress staying back here (last) weekend. He's a young man that needs to get healthy. It's a pretty good quad strain. He has a good opportunity in front of him but you have to be on field to take advantage of it." Only six days of training camp and three games remain. Wynn's quad better heal, or he'll be out of a job.
He Said It
"You establish relationships on the field and off the field. Off the field I hang out with these guys as much as I can. Go to dinner, go to a movie, play ping pong, whatever. Just hang out. It's important to build that relationship. And on the field you have to be consistent."
- Aaron Rodgers on building camaraderie