Even now, five months later, there are no excuses being made by A.J. Hawk.
Hawk is coming off his worst season in his brief NFL career. But Hawk wouldn't blame it on injuries. Not the pectoral injury suffered during the preseason opener against Cincinnati and not the groin injury suffered during the Week 4 loss at Tampa Bay that seemed to bother him all season.
"I don't know. I think I felt the same as everyone else in this locker room," Hawk said Wednesday when asked if the injuries were more severe than he let on. "You know, you never feel great. I was fine. I was good all last year."
Nonetheless, there are whispers that Hawk, the fifth overall pick of the 2006 draft after a superlative career at Ohio State, will never play to those lofty expectations. While he led the Packers in tackles for the second time in his three years, his impact was almost negligible. Of his career-low 121 tackles, only one was for a loss. He had no interceptions, forced fumbles or fumble recoveries.
"I always say, personally, you're never really satisfied with what you did," said Hawk, who did post three sacks while getting more opportunities to blitz. "Obviously, I'd have loved to make some more plays, make some impact plays, make some interceptions, fumbles, everything. I think what hurts the most is just going 6-10. We were in so many games that we let get away. We say it all the time that our offense kept us in a lot of games. They scored a lot of points for us and we couldn't finish the game. We always seemed to let guys back in the game. For us, we know what we need to get that fixed, and I think we're taking good steps to do that."
Those steps, of course, are the transformation to a 3-4 defense. Hawk and Nick Barnett will man the inside linebacker positions in the base defense. Hawk will play on the strong side, with Barnett — or, at the moment, Brandon Chillar, as Barnett recovers from knee reconstruction — on the weak side.
Comparing playing on the inside in a 3-4 to replacing Barnett in the middle of the 4-3 during the second half of last season, Hawk said the new scheme will allow him to be more aggressive.
"You basically just have different gap responsibilities against the run," he explained. "How you're attacking the line and what you're doing, really, is different with two guys inside and three down linemen in front of you. It just makes your run reads a little different but it's good, because it lets us play downhilll and lets us play fast and get to the line. We want to get to the line, make contract and then get to the ball. We're not sitting back and waiting for anybody."
The area in which Hawk experienced his most struggles last season were in the passing game. He had no interceptions and three passes defensed last year, compared to three interceptions and 13 breakups during his first two seasons. Some of his inability to handle running backs and tight ends stemmed from the groin injury, which sapped him of his short-range quickness. Some of it was experiencing the game from the middle of the defense instead of his customary spot on the weak side.
The new defense will change that aspect of the game. While the cornerbacks appear to still be playing a lot of man-to-man coverage and Barnett says he'll be playing more man than in the past, Hawk said he'll probably be playing more zone.
"It depends what type of coverage we run," Hawk said. "Last year, obviously, we matched up a lot. I don't foresee us matching up as much, but we have the option to do that. We'll still be in coverage but we might not be as far downfield. We might be spot dropping a little more and breaking on the ball."
Hawk has been a fixture in Green Bay this offseason as he learns the new defensive system. That means a lot of film and a lot of time prying information from those who know.
"We've watched film of a lot of different teams that run similar 3-4s as us," Hawk said. "We watched some of the old Steelers film back when Kevin Greene and all of those guys were playing really well. I've talked to guys throughout the league that have played in the 3-4 and played inside and see what their pointers might be, because this will be my first time playing in it for an extended period of time. We've studied and tried to get information from anyone we could find."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Bill also is giving Facebook and Twitter a try. Find him on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook.