Hodge shows spring in his step

Repaired knees have linebacker rounding into 2006 form

This was the Abdul Hodge who drew rave reviews during his rookie training camp of 2006.

Hodge had one of the take-notice performances of the Green Bay Packers' preseason loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night. The linebacker was delivering hard hits against the run and showing off his regained speed against the pass.

And if his football skills didn't appeal to the masses at Lambeau Field, his dance moves to that noted classic "Cotton-Eyed Joe" earned some of the loudest applause of the night.

"I got that from Iowa from my buddy Greenway," Hodge said the Vikings' Chad Greenway, a former teammate the Univerisity of Iowa.

It's easier to dance when you've got two good knees.

A year ago at this time, it appeared as if Hodge's career path had dropped like a ton of bricks. Plagued by patellar tendinitis in both knees last fall, the only similarities between the Hodge of 2007 and 2006 was his No. 52 jersey. The speed that made him such a terror in the run game was gone.

Surgery performed by New York Giants physician Russell Warren has been a salvation.

"It's amazing," Hodge said.

Hodge, mired on the depth chart as the third middle linebacker behind starter Nick Barnett and budding Desmond Bishop, got plenty of reps on Monday with Bishop sidelined by a strained Achilles' tendon. He finished with a team-high six tackles, along with a tackle for loss and a pass defensed.

"It's been a long time," Hodge said of feeling this good. "The last two years have been tough. Now, I'm healthy and I'm running around and doing what I do and having fun."

Hodge was drafted in the third round of the 2006 draft, after finishing third in the nation in tackles as a senior. It appeared that nose for the football would translate well to the NFL. By midway through the preseason, there was speculation the Packers would move Nick Barnett to the outside to make room for Hodge.

Instead, Barnett retained his job and the pain in Hodge's knees grew worse.

Finally, Hodge's career is back on track.

"It's important for me to get out there and get back to just having fun, and running to the ball and playing the way I know that I can," Hodge said. "That was a test for me to be able to do it. I've been doing it in practice, but to actually go out on game day and get it done, I'm having a good time with that."

Unlike two years ago, Hodge is in no position to challenge for a starting job. Now, he's fighting for a spot on the roster with Bishop, who has the advantage of being a standout on most of the Packers' special teams. Hodge, though, says he's focusing on his play rather than his future with the team.

"What I do, is I just worry about what I can control," Hodge said. "That's keeping myself healthy, training and working hard, and when I get on the field, just make plays."

Bill Huber writes for Packer Report. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com

Packer Report Top Stories