In the season opener at Philadelphia last season, A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop played a combined zero snaps on defense.
But injuries and circumstances changed, Hawk and Bishop played leading roles in the Green Bay Packers winning the Super Bowl and they were rewarded with lucrative contracts.
“I think it’s a great example because both of those guys since I’ve been here have gone through frustrating periods,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers told a few beat reporters on Wednesday. “But that’s the way this game is and that’s the way it is for your team.”
Hawk and Bishop enter training camp as the unit’s undisputed starters. Hawk, despite his part-time role to start the season, led the team with 134 tackles in the regular season and had seven games of 10-plus tackles, including the playoffs. Bishop tallied 121 tackles in his 12 regular-season starts and had six games of 10-plus tackles, including the playoffs.
“A.J. doesn’t say a word (of complaint after the Eagles game), he just goes back in and goes to work and we end up the season and A.J.’s our defensive leader,” Capers said. “He does a tremendous job out in front of that huddle, does a tremendous job of making all the calls and adjustments with the front-seven guys.
“Bish was the same way. There were times that he wasn’t getting as much opportunity. You keep telling those guys, ‘Just keep doing what you’re doing, and when you get your chance, take advantage of it.’ I think both of those guys did exactly that. I think they were good team guys — ‘whatever you need me to do’ type of thing. They didn’t get down when things weren’t going their way. Early in the season, they weren’t going either guys’ way. At the end of the season, they played awful good for us down the stretch when we won six in a row.”
Both were impact players, with Hawk tying for the NFL lead among linebackers with three interceptions — not bad for a guy who was replaced on passing downs by Brandon Chillar in 2008, 2009 and the start of 2010. Bishop forced three fumbles, including one in the fourth quarter of the playoff romp against Atlanta.
While the starters are a sure thing, the depth potentially is a sore spot. The Packers are trying to trade Nick Barnett — who is seven tackles away from breaking John Anderson’s franchise record — and will release him if a deal can’t be made. Chillar’s name was noticeably absent when Capers was asked about depth on Wednesday. Injuries (three surgeries to his right shoulder) and money (cap charges of $2.98 million this year, $3.68 million in 2012 and $3.98 million in 2013) could lead to his release on Friday. However, that’d be a risky decision considering he’s the only veteran backup on the roster.
Sixth-round pick D.J. Smith, with 525 career tackles at Appalachian State, is a possibility, as is veteran Matt Wilhelm, a free agent after spending the second half of last season with 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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport.