Finally, this is Desmond Bishop's time to shine.
Actually, this time of year is always Bishop's time to shine. A sixth-round draft pick by the Green Bay Packers in 2007, the linebacker routinely has made mincemeat of the offense, either on the practice field or the preseason. If there was a Training Camp Hall of Fame, Bishop would be in the inaugural class of inductees.
But once the calendar flipped to September, Mr. August would be banished to special teams. No matter how many running backs were dropped in the backfield or tight ends that were leveled while crossing the middle for a pass, Bishop's role was the same: Watch A.J. Hawk play with the starting defense, then out his frustration while running down the field on the kickoff team.
Finally, it's different this time. Finally, Bishop is being given an honest-to-goodness chance to earn an honest-to-goodness role on the defense.
Bishop is like the factory worker who just won the lottery. OK, the numbers said that's the winning ticket, but it's best to rub your eyes and give it a second, third and fourth look before celebrating. One part of Bishop is thrilled that he's finally getting this opportunity. The rest of Bishop knows not to get too excited, to prepare for the rug to get jerked out from under his feet again.
"I can't lie and say that I'm (not) excited about it," Bishop told Packer Report on Friday. "But at the same time, in the back of my head, I don't know if the thing with (Brandon) Chillar is permanent or not. I'm not going in there full-heartedly but I am going out there and having fun and doing the things that I need to stay out there and show the coaches that I‘m trustworthy and I'm going to make plays."
The turn of events this week has been stunning. One day, Bishop was leveling a tight end who had the audacity to catch a pass in his vicinity and throwing his shoulder into a running back after thundering through the line on a blitz. The exhilaration from another productive day was tempered by the realization that he was fourth on the pecking order at inside linebacker.
In the locker room, Bishop answered the same questions he had answered the past few years. What do you need to do to get a real chance to play? Have the coaches ever told you what's keeping you from playing? Is it frustrating when you believe you're better than a high-priced starter? Would you welcome a trade? Are you sick of these questions again and again?
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Suddenly, it all changed — or appears to have changed. Due in part to a shortage of outside linebackers with Brad Jones sidelined during the first practice with a bruised back, the coaches decided to give Chillar a shot at outside linebacker.
What appears to have been a trial now appears to be so much more. Of course, there's always the possibility that Jones will win the starting job at outside linebacker and Chillar will move back to the inside. However, even with Jones back on the practice field at the end of the week, Chillar remains a starter on the outside. The coaches have invested a lot of valuable reps this week. They certainly wouldn't be doing so on a lark.
"I like Bishop. I liked Bishop last year," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said this week. "But I'll say this, that the second year being with him, he's done as good a job with all of our offseason work as anybody on our team. He's been here, I think he knows the system much better, I think he's having a good camp. So, obviously I think he gives you flexibility in terms of what he can do for you, both on first and second and third downs."
Inside linebackers coach Winston Moss sees a difference. Always productive against the run, Bishop has a better grasp of the scheme and has added more power to his pass-rushing technique.
"When you see what he's doing in practice, he's done this in camp before, he's made some plays and given up some plays," Moss said. "He needs to take it to where he can go into a game and be impactful but not give up explosive plays. "
While Hawk remains the starter, Bishop could wind up playing more snaps in some games because the defense spends about 60 or 65 percent of its snaps playing nickel. It was Hawk's shortcomings in coverage that thrust Chillar into such a key role the last two years. If Bishop can play with the consistency that Capers is looking for, he could assume that role.
"There's no question, I think, he can rush the passer, he can drop off and he can do the things you'd like him to do," Capers said.
Bishop has seen what fellow Class of 2007 inside/middle linebackers Patrick Willis, Jon Beason and Clint Session have accomplished. Now, with free agency looming in the offseason and with Bishop champing at the bit to finally get a lot of meaningful snaps on defense, he is optimistic — albeit cautiously optimistic — about what lies ahead.
"Just to get the opportunity to contribute any right now, going from like zero to this, I'm just enjoying it," he said.
Of course, the alternative is Jones wins the job at outside linebacker, Chillar resumes his role as the third inside linebacker and Bishop is back to being limited to special teams.
So, if there was a Brandon Chillar Fan Club, Bishop would be signing up.
"Yeah, I am" cheering for Chillar, Bishop said with a grin. "I hope he goes off the edge and gets monster sacks and never comes back."
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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 email@example.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.