A.J. Hawk finished third on the Green Bay Packers in tackles last season, but the rest of his numbers stuck out like a sore thumb.
In 14 starts, Hawk tallied 1.5 sacks, zero interceptions, zero forced fumbles and zero fumble recoveries. He had four games of at least nine tackles.
Contrast that with top backup D.J. Smith. In three starts, he had one interception and three games of at least nine tackles. Or even No. 4 inside linebacker Robert Francois, who picked off two passes and forced one fumble in two starts.
Still, there were no signs whatsoever during offseason practices that the Packers will do anything but start Hawk and Desmond Bishop this season, with Smith the No. 3 and a wide-open derby for the final spot(s) with the addition of fifth-round pick Terrell Manning and the move of Brad Jones and Jamari Lattimore from outside to inside.
Desmond Bishop (6-2, 238; sixth year): Bishop went from 121 tackles in 15 games in his first year as a starter to 142 in 13 games last season. Only Arizona’s Daryl Washington (six) had more sacks than Bishop’s five among inside/middle linebackers. However, he allowed 82.5 percent completions — third-worst at the position.
A.J. Hawk (6-1, 247; seventh year): Hawk was practically invisible for most of last season in terms of big plays. He ranked third among inside linebackers in blitzes but had just 1.5 sacks. His coverage, however, was better than you’d think — ranking fifth with 63.4 percent completions — though the coaches mostly kept him out of bad matchups.
D.J. Smith (5-11, 239; second year): Smith is seen as a rising prospect. He left Appalachian State as the FCS active leader in career tackles with 525. That nose for the football and physicality was evident. As a rookie sixth-round pick, Smith recorded nine, 12 and nine tackles in his three starts, plus had an interception.
Robert Francois (6-2, 255; third year): Even though he started only two games, Francois picked off two passes and forced a fumble. Those three turnover plays were as many as the rest of the position group combined. He’s not a great athlete but he’s a physical pro. He played outside in 2010.
Brad Jones (6-3, 242; fourth year): Even with Erik Walden not getting it done at outside linebacker last year, Jones didn’t get his chance until Detroit in Week 17 and the Giants in the playoffs. He answered with a sack in each game. Jones, who had 11 tackles on special teams, spent most of the offseason at inside linebacker.
Jamari Lattimore (6-2, 230; second year): Lattimore beat out sixth-round pick Ricky Elmore to be the last outside linebacker on the roster last year, though his season consisted of nine games playing mostly on special teams. As with Jones, Lattimore was moved to inside linebacker and will try to make the team as a swing player.
Terrell Manning (6-2, 237; rookie, R-5): Manning was outstanding at North Carolina State, with 10 sacks and 25 tackles for losses in his two seasons as a starter. It’s hard to imagine the Packers would give up on Manning after giving up three picks to get him.
Total: 7. On 2011 opening roster: 4.
Final prediction (5): Bishop, Hawk, Smith, Manning and Jones.
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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.