Disappointing Hawk Still Key Part of Defense

The Packers have no intentions of moving the linebacker who was drafted No. 5 overall in the 2006 draft, his agent told Packer Report. We tell you why Hawk will play an important role in 2010 and why Hawk was better than you think in 2009.

On Dec. 14, the Green Bay Packers surprisingly handed inside linebacker Brandon Chillar a four-year contract extension worth $21 million.

Considering Chillar had taken playing time away from fellow inside linebacker A.J. Hawk, it didn't take a giant leap of logic to wonder whether Hawk's days in Green Bay were numbered.

"You cannot have enough good football players," coach Mike McCarthy said at the time. "I think that's shown every single year in the National Football League. Injuries are the one variable that you cannot control as you go through the season. We're definitely trying to do the best we can to keep as many good football players as we can."

Turns out McCarthy wasn't throwing up a smoke screen. Hawk isn't going anywhere, his agent, Mike McCartney, told Packer Report on Wednesday. To the contrary, the Packers are happy to have Hawk on the roster. 

And rightly so.

"When I talked to the Packers, I get very positive feedback," McCartney said. "I think A.J., much like any player, has room to grow but he's also been very, very steady. He's done a great job when he's played. The team has struggled in a few of those games when he was off the field. When he's been on the field, it was a No. 1-type defense most of the field. I sense the same excitement for 2010 in A.J. that I have. I think they're really expecting him to build on this year and have a terrific year next year."

A.J. Hawk had two interceptions in 2009.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Hawk was set to make $4,123,750 next season, according to salary data provided to Packer Report last season. That figure is up to $4,623,750 after he hit a playing time escalator, and he'll get another $500,000 workout bonus.

That's a lot of money for a part-time linebacker.

Has Hawk — as the No. 5 overall pick of the 2006 draft — been a disappointment? Yes. Hawk was a big-play machine at Ohio State, but the two interceptions he recorded this past season were Hawk's first turnover plays since an interception at Kansas City on Nov. 1, 2007. In four seasons, Hawk has forced two fumbles, recovered three, recorded three interceptions and tallied 7.5 sacks.

Some of Hawk's production, however, is tied to circumstance. In the old 4-3 scheme, coordinator Bob Sanders rarely blitzed his linebackers. In a 3-4, the bigger of the two inside linebackers generally is used to take on blockers to let the smaller of the inside linebackers — Nick Barnett, in the Packers' case — make the tackles.

Obviously, it's hard to make impact plays when rarely put in position to make them or not on the field.

In 17 games (including playoffs), Hawk played less than half of the defensive snaps seven times. Included in those four games were the Packers' two losses to the Vikings, a loss to the Steelers and the playoff loss to the Cardinals. The quarterbacks threw 15 touchdown passes and no interceptions in those games, and the Packers allowed an average of 439.3 yards per game.

Meanwhile, Hawk played just about every snap in just three games. Those came in consecutive games against Detroit, Baltimore and Chicago. The Packers allowed an average of 237 yards in those games, propelling their surge to No. 1 in the league against the run and No. 2 overall.

As Mark Twain said, there are lies, damned lies and statistics, but Hawk's production may surprise you. Hawk averaged a solo tackle on every 8.93 snaps. For comparison, San Francisco's Patrick Willis averaged a solo tackle every 9.54 snaps and Baltimore's Ray Lewis every 10.46 snaps. Barnett averaged a solo tackle every 9.73 snaps. Arizona's Karlos Dansby, who is going to break the bank in free agency, averaged a solo stop every 11.01 snaps.

The Packers' apparent intention to keep Hawk is well-justified. While the NFL becomes more and more like Arena Football every year, defenses still have to stop the run. And a look at the 2010 schedule shows a run-heavy slate of games against the Jets (No. 1 in carries per game), Miami (No. 3), Minnesota (No. 9), New England (No. 10), Atlanta (No. 11), Giants (No. 13) and Dallas (No. 17). Hawk will play a huge role in those games.

"A.J.'s a pro's pro," McCartney said. "I think he's everything you want on and off the field. I sense the same enthusiasm from the Packers."

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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 packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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