"It's actually exciting to me now," Hodge said Thursday, his second day of practice since last year's surgeries. "I just line up, run to the football and react and use my instincts and do the things I've been known to do, instead of worrying about (the knees). I'm not restricted now, so I can just go all out and play."
He'll have to be on top of his game, because much has changed for Hodge.
A third-round pick in the 2006 draft, Hodge was one of the stories of his rookie training camp. He was a tackling machine at the University of Iowa, and his hard-hitting and instinctive ways seemed to translate well, especially in run defense. He played so well, there was speculation he would bump Brady Poppinga out of the lineup.
After missing all of last season, however, Hodge will be fighting for a roster spot, not fighting for a starting role. The Packers signed veteran Brandon Chillar to challenge Poppinga, they have high hopes for 2007 sixth-round pick Desmond Bishop and veteran Tracy White is a standout on special teams.
With six linebackers the norm on NFL rosters, it's possible Hodge's potential as a backup linebacker will have to outweigh White's impact and leadership on special teams for him to make the roster.
"I'm not looking at that situation right now," Hodge said. "If I take care of what I need to take care of, everything will work itself out in my best interests."
The knee problems that derailed Hodge last season date back to his senior season at Iowa, he said. He was unable to play through the patellar tendinitis in his knees last fall, however, and he elected to have surgery late in training camp. He returned to practice on Wednesday.
"That was my first time in my whole life watching football," Hodge said.
Coach Mike McCarthy was happy to see Hodge back on the practice field.
"I think Abdul Hodge has done very well," McCarthy said after Thursday's practice. "It's nice to see him bouncing around like he did in his rookie year. I know he's very relieved after what he's gone through over the past year or so."
Relief is a good word for it. Hodge says he's pain free — calling himself "110 percent" healthy — and he's eager to display the skills that made him a star at Iowa after a forgettable 2007 training camp in which the impact plays that defined his 2006 camp were absent.
"It was like putting a product out that you're not agreeing with," he said. "But you have to fight through things and I just had to be out there. We made the decision to have surgery, and now I'm looking forward to being out there and playing and getting better."