With Brandon Chillar out with a broken hand, coach Mike McCarthy said A.J. Hawk will get “the majority of the reps” at inside linebacker this week at Tampa Bay.
A cautious Hawk wasn’t ready to celebrate this opportunity or the possibility that a strong performance will mean more snaps this season.
“I don’t really think it’s … every game depends,” Hawk told a few reporters on Thursday. “I don’t really know how many snaps I’m going to get this week. Everything still kind of depends on what our plan is, what their plan is. The plan hasn’t really changed.”
According to Hawk, he, Nick Barnett and Desmond Bishop have been rotating at the two inside linebacker spots to get well-versed in all of the packages in case of injury.
Hawk lost out on a role in the nickel package because Barnett and Chillar are superior defenders in pass coverage. Hawk, however, doesn’t believe he’s a liability in the passing game. He was an every-down player his first three seasons before becoming a part-time player this year.
“That’s all we did,” Hawk said about playing man coverage in 2006 and 2007. “I think I’ve gotten better in coverage since then, I definitely have. I don’t think it’s just about that, covering tight ends. We have a lot of good players. I don’t know what the perception is of how I cover. I feel comfortable covering people. So, we’re a little different though. We’re not a real zone-up team — we’re zone-match, we cover guys, we’re not just reading the quarterback like a lot of people. We definitely have the last three years, this year it’s definitely a good scheme to cover, especially for us.”
Depending on offensive matchups, Hawk has played sparingly in some games and most of the snaps in others. When Chillar exited against Minnesota last week, the coaches went with Bishop in the nickel.
Hawk says the decreased role hasn’t hurt him personally.
“This doesn’t do anything to my confidence or what I feel I can do personally,” Hawk said. “I don’t think anyone could ever change how I feel about what I can do on the field, so that doesn’t change for me. It doesn’t change how I approach the game, what I do, how I practice or how I play.”
Hawk might not have been in this position had Bishop properly diagnosed a screen to Adrian Peterson in the fourth quarter last week. Bishop got caught inside and blocked, and Peterson rumbled 44 yards to set up the clinching touchdown.
“Everybody on our team has a role,” McCarthy said when asked about Bishop. “Everybody on our team has a responsibility. It is based on our evaluations and what the coaches see every single day, whether it’s on the field, in the meetings. I feel very confident and comfortable with our inside linebacker group. I think all four of those guys can play at a high level. Unfortunately, someone goes in front of the other, and that’s just the way it has come out.”
Status quo likely on returns
Special teams coordinator Shaun Slocum said he’s sticking with Tramon Williams as punt returner and said “there’s a chance” Williams and Brandon Jackson will be worked in with Ahman Green as kickoff returner.
The Packers rank 13th in kickoff returns — due in large part ot Jordy Nelson’s handiwork early in the season — but only 23rd in punt returns. Green Bay has returned 13 punts for 85 yards, with more than half of the yardage coming on a 45-yard runback by Williams against Detroit.
Packers injury report
Out — LB Brandon Chillar (hand). Did not participate — WR Donald Driver (neck); TE Jermichael Finley (knee); WR Jordy Nelson (knee); QB Aaron Rodgers (feet); C/G Jason Spitz (back). Limited participation — FB Korey Hall (calf). Full participation — T Chad Clifton (ankle); CB Charles Woodson (hip).
McCarthy expects Rodgers and Driver to practice on Friday. Meanwhile, it appears tight end Jermichael Finley will miss at least another game. McCarthy said Nelson is “ahead” of Finley in their recovery from knee sprains, and added that Nelson might be available for next week.
As for the situation at left and right tackle, McCarthy said: “I think Mark Tauscher and Chad Clifton have put together two good practices. Once again, we're going to take the whole week's work. But we're definitely further ahead than the past two weeks, as far as their availability and the production. I think they've done a good job.”
Buccaneers injury report
Limited participation — WR Antonio Bryant (knee); CB Elbert Mack (ankle). Full participation — WR Michael Clayton (wrist); CB Aqib Talib (ankle); G Jeremy Zuttah (shoulder).
—The Packers are 11-13-1 all-time in Tampa, Fla., including 1-6 at Raymond James Stadium.
— The Buccaneers’ first-round pick, Josh Freeman, will make his first career start on Sunday. The Packers are 4-0 against rookie first-time starters since 1980, with wins over the Saints’ Bobby Hebert in 1985, Dallas’ Steve Walsh in 1989, Detroit’s Joey Harrington in 2002 and Minnesota’s Tarvaris Jackson in 2006.
— Under McCarthy, the Packers are 15-12 on the road. Only five teams have a better record during that time, led by New England (22-5).
— The Buccaneers are making Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive end Lee Roy Selmon the first player installed to their Ring of Honor. As part of that celebration, the Buccaneers will be wearing their old orange jerseys complete with Bucco Bruce pirate logo.
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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.