'Take It To The Edge'

That's what inside linebackers coach Winston Moss wants to see out of veteran A.J. Hawk. The fifth-year pro almost always has been solid and avoided mental errors. We talk to Hawk about Moss' request to up the ante by taking the occasional gamble to make a big play.

A.J. Hawk has been as reliable as a Honda Accord.

And about as flashy.

The fifth pick of the 2006 draft, Hawk almost always has been good but only rarely has he been exceptional. Inside linebackers coach Winston Moss wouldn't mind a little more "exceptional," even at the cost of Hawk losing some of that renowned reliability. In other words, push the peddle to the metal.

"And I know a coach shouldn't be saying this, but he's got to take a shot when he has the opportunity," Moss said during the minicamp in June. "Because he has that ability. I still believe in him, from what I've seen evaluating him coming out of college, he has not done anything since he's been here to take away from the ability that's in him that I know what he wants, the work ethic that he has, what he puts forth in the meeting room, he doesn't skip on plays, he takes all his reps, he doesn't back down, he's highly coachable, he's a smart guy, he's very intelligent, so he has all the tools, all the dynamics. He's just now got to have that (mentality of), ‘If I take a shot, if it happens, I'm a hero. If it doesn't, yeah, the coach will probably say something, but what the hell … I'm trying to make a play.'"

Hawk made a few eye-catching plays during Saturday's Family Night Scrimmage. Playing with the starters against the No. 2 offense, Hawk stopped one drive by beating center Evan Dietrich-Smith on a third-down blitz to sack Matt Flynn. A couple plays later, he stopped Quinn Porter for no gain. Later, in a starters-vs.-starters two-minute drill, Hawk beat the block of fullback John Kuhn to drop Ryan Grant or a critical 3-yard loss inside the 10-yard line.

Hawk, who spoke in depth earlier in the week with a couple of reporters about Moss' comments, downplayed his performance after the scrimmage.

"I don't know. I mean, either way, good or bad, it's what, Week 1 of probably 30 for the season?" Hawk said. "So, you can't get too excited or too upset about anything that goes on on a night like tonight. As a defense and as a team, we wanted to come out and do some good things and put some good film together and at least get ready for our first preseason game next week."

Hawk picked off two passes last year.
Scott Boehm/Getty Images
Even while being basically a two-down player last season, Hawk finished second on the team in tackles, had his first turnover plays since midway through the 2007 season with two interceptions, and was voted a Pro Bowl alternate. After watching film of the season, Moss thought Hawk played to that level. Now, the coach wants more from his pupil.

"Yeah, he wants me to even get up and have a celebration and dances and stuff after plays — which I told him is never going to happen," Hawk said. "But he wants, I guess you'd say, he wants me to just let it loose, don't worry about anything, don't care, which I don't feel like I do, but just go 100 miles an hour whatever you're doing and make plays."

Not only will Hawk not draw attention to himself after a tackle, but he won't draw attention to himself in light of what last year's defense accomplished. The Packers led the NFL in run defense for the first time ever, and stopping the run is Hawk's forte in the scheme. He could toot his horn and scream, "Look at me!" Instead, he seems conflicted — in large part because of the overwhelming expectations that come from his draft status and the perception that he hasn't lived up to them.

"Team-wise, yeah, we have, at times," Hawk said. "I don't know. It's hard. We have the best fans in the world, I feel like, and our defense did well but when you leave a sour taste in people's mouth like our last game in Arizona, it's kind of tough. It's tough for us; it's tough for (the fans) to deal with that and we know we need to rebound. Expectations, I don't know. I don't know how you're supposed to live up to them or whatever. Everyone has in their own mind of how they feel like they should play. I'm getting there."

If Moss has his way, Hawk will be "getting there" by playing a little less cerebrally and relying more on heart and passion. Some of that was on display on his tackle of Grant on Saturday night. Hawk put a shoulder into Kuhn, which was just the textbook would ask for, but he continued on and dropped Grant for a big loss. Hawk talked about his conversations with Brady Poppinga about never playing scared, and his need to find the "balance" required to play with a little more of an edge but not cost the team by going overboard.

"I want him to be very aggressive with it, and what I've seen from him already in training camp," Moss said last week. "When he's playing the run, he's running through the gap he's responsible for. His, blitz he's not trying to be as powerful and try to go down the middle of a guy all the time but work edges on guys, which will allow him to be more effective in one-on-one situations. If he can continue to believe that we want him to not be such a guy who's so stringent on assignment — be conscious of it but take it to the edge. Everybody wants to make plays in this defense, just get confidence in doing that, believe in yourself and go get it."

The early scoreboard shows Hawk is going out and getting it. Hawk won't ever join Barnett in a samurai dance, and he'll probably always be a liability in pass coverage. But that doesn't mean Hawk can't be more than just good at what he does best.

That might not be good enough for the fans, who think of his draft status and instantly want 160 tackles, 10 sacks and four or five turnovers. But as long as it's good for the team, that's what matters.

"I'll never judge myself on Pro Bowls or anything like that. I plan on having some Super Bowls under my belt by now for sure," Hawk said. "Individually, I don't think you're ever — say I went to four straight Pro Bowls, it's not like I'd be satisfied or I made it or anything. I bet you never feel like you've really made it or you've reached your potential. You're always working towards it, like I am. That's the great thing about football. Where we're at as a team and where I'm at as a player, why not? Why not let it loose? What's the worst that can happen?"

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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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