How Much Longer Can A.J. Hawk Remain a Packers Starter?

ALLGBP.com All Green Bay Packers All the Time
D.J. Smith
Could D.J. Smith take A.J. Hawk's job in 2012?

Since being drafted in the first round of the 2006 NFL draft, A.J. Hawk has consistently been one of the most criticized players for the Green Bay Packers.  In fact, it would be safe to say that the former No. 5 overall pick has been widely considered somewhat of a bust during his tenure in the league.

It seems that every year Packers fans are wondering whether or not this will be the last time that Hawk remains a starting inside linebacker for Green Bay.  However, every year before the start of the regular season they inevitably see Hawk’s name in the starting lineup without a possible replacement challenging him.

That may no longer be the case for Green Bay and Hawk.  According to a report from Gregg Rosenthal at NFL.com, Hawk could lose playing time to second-year player D.J. Smith.  Rosenthal does state that it is unlikely that Smith will completely replace Hawk, but could definitely begin taking away snaps from him.

However, the most interesting quote in Rosenthal’s article is the comment from defensive coordinator Dom Capers that basically states that Smith will be competing for Hawk’s job.  It is one thing for a reporter to say Smith could take Hawk’s job, but it is another thing entirely to have the head-honcho of the defense saying the same thing.

Smith became a fan favorite while filling in when Desmond Bishop injured his knee last year.  One reason why fans in Green Bay loved Smith so much was due to his passion for the game.  He played every snap at 110 percent and was widely effective during his time on the field.

While no one would ever say Hawk doesn’t give his all on the field, you have to wonder what happened to the dominant linebacker who ravaged offenses at Ohio State.  Whereas  Hawk seems to have reached a ceiling that is lower than anyone expected, Smith appears to be capable of becoming much better.  He looks like he could become an exceptional player in this league, and that type of talent simply can’t sit on the bench.

The only question that remains is how long does Hawk have before he stops losing snaps to Smith and simply loses his job completely?

The logical answer, knowing the type of coaches Capers and Mike McCarthy are, would be that if Smith has proven to be the better player by the end of training camp and the preseason, then he’ll get the chance to start from Week 1.  Unfortunately, with Smith still so young, and the defense coming off a terrible performance during the 2011 season, throwing in a new starter at such an important position right away seems like a stretch.

The more likely scenario would be that Hawk will start the season opposite Bishop as starting inside linebacker.  Smith will get his chance to play early in the season on some key plays and if he shows capable enough to handle Hawk’s responsibilities, he’ll play more.

That scenario could see Smith potentially taking over for Hawk beginning in Week 5.  That will have given Smith some time to prove he has what it takes to be a key contributor in the NFL, and it will also have given Capers and McCarthy a chance to figure out how to best utilize him.  Of course, this all depends on whether or not Smith is actually good enough to start in the league, but early reports all seem to favor Smith’s talents.

Hopefully by this time next year, Hawk’s name will be on a different NFL roster and not a constant reminder for Packers fans of a disappointing draft pick.

  • ZeroTolerance

    It may just be me, but I am not disappointed. He’s been a solid player.

    • ThomasMagnumPI

      But paid like a superstar…

      • Oppy

        Point/Counterpoint, And I “Liked” them both. So much truth.

  • CSS

    This part, is patently absurd:

    “In fact, it would be safe to say that the former No. 5 overall pick has been widely considered somewhat of a bust during his tenure in the league.”

    A disappointment considering the lack of explosive play compared to his draft position, sure. He’s been steady and he’s produced. He had just as many ‘splash’ plays as Bishop in the Super Bowl year.

    Suggesting he’s a bust would be a gross exaggeration.

    • Wagszilla

      Same amount of splash plays? Nonsense.

      I can’t recall AJ Hawk ever picking off Brett Favre and housing it for 6 points.

      In fact, the only thing I remember AJ doing recently besides his forte, missing tackles, was flicking off a fellow Packer on live television.

      • CSS

        Look at the 2010 film, look at the stats. He made just as many in the Super Bowl year. I was pretty clear in referencing the Super Bowl year.

        Yes, Bishop really made an awesome play on that pick 6 where Jones tackled Favre and the hillbilly flipped it directly into his chest 5 yards away. Athletic play right there. You could pick dozens of plays better than that.

  • Turophile

    Coverage is not Bishop’s forte either.

    I am wondering if at some time later this season, or at the start of next season, we see Terrell Manning and D.J. Smith paired together when the Packers want to emphasise coverage with the ILB’s.

    I guess Lattimore, Robert Francois and Brad Jones could also figure here when it is coverage time, but I am not sure how good their coverage ability is (Lattimore’s I think is decent).

    • Oppy

      I don’t think I want to see DJ Smith trailing a 6-4ish TE on a seam route.

  • Tarynfor12

    OK already…A.J.Hawk isn’t Canton material and being a 1st rd,5th overall pick and being such…lets crucify him for his steady,solid play anyway.

    I wonder if and or when any of the new darlings doesn’t supplant him to his much believed to be spot on the bench or outright cutting,will there be any congrats bestowed upon him or will the incessant and again proved wrong hate simply continue until the next hopeful usurper arrives in camp.

    Until TT and MM begin to see what so many think they see clearly,and Hawk remains….it’s for a reason and simply being a 1st rd,5th overall or contract isn’t it.

    Competition in camp is great,but too many simply think taking Hawks job will/should be a cakewalk…don’t bet on it!

  • John Zoul

    I disagree with both of your premises:
    1. D.J. Smith is too young to take over from Hawk as the starter, and
    2. That if Smith outplays Hawk in training camp and the preseason, he would have to wait until week five to take over as starter
    Both are very weak arguments. Remember a young lad named Clay Matthews? He was younger than D.J. Smith is when a rookie and he started-immediately. How do you think that workede out? Number two, if Dom Capers, the head of the defense as defensive coordinator, says Smith will compete for Hawk’s position-what does that mean? To me, that means if he outplays and out-tackles A.J. Hawk, he will have won the starting job.
    …If have been a Packer fan for over fifty years, and I must say, with regret, that last year’s defense was the absolute worst defense in that time period. That is dead last in over fifty years. Both A.J. Hawk and Tramon Williams, along with Jarius Wynn and C.J. Wilson, in my humble opinion, were key factors in the pitifulness of the Packers defense. It would not bother me if all four were cut or released before training camp ends. I understand that T. Williams had a severely injured shoulder. He should have been put on the shelf because he could not play effectively after that injury. In my judgment, he needs to take a pay cut and be placed on the PUP-list or be released. Hawk and the two defensive linemen were ineffective all year. Dead last in defense requires major changes in personnel.

    • Tarynfor12

      “Remember a young lad named Clay Matthews”.
      Who was stopping CM3 from starting…no one.

      “If Dom Capers,the head of the defense as defensive coordinator,says Smith will compete for Hawks position-what does that mean?
      It means it’s not the same situation as with CM3…he(Smith) has to win it….CM3 being honest,didn’t need to win anything.

    • Oppy

      Bob Sanders headed up a few stinkers when he took over for Bates.. Some of those Sanders defenses would at least be contention for worst Packers defense of the last 50 years.

      Heck, that was just a few seasons ago, too.

  • El Guapo

    I like Hawk as a person and hes been pretty durable during his time here but the guy is simply a mediocre LB with no instincts.

    Seriously watch the games, he almost never makes an impact play or tackle and if hes does they are few and far between. He is too easily blocked both on blitzes and in run support. He is also a liability in coverage. He takes bad angles, does not change direction well and generally is a step slow in reacting to the opponent he is covering.

    If your ok with pathetic play from one of our ILB positions than by all means keep touting Hawk as solid. To me, every snap he takes on defense is a missed opportunity to get a young guy like DJ Smith valuable playing time.

    It may not be this year but its time to move on from this player. Hopefully this is the year they start to phase him out of this defense.

  • Don Majkowski

    I think Hawk’s best year was his rookie season. He did a much better job of taking on blocks and playing with fire throughout a game. Winston Moss has slowly made him into a mediocre player. I am still upset with Moss, with the fact it took multiple injuries to get Desmond Bishop on the field….and now he’s a stud. Everyone saw that Bishop needed a chance, and Moss didn’t see the talent or pull the trigger. Could be the same issue with Hawk and Smith now. Moss will wait until there are 4 injuries and then give Smith a chance…and he’ll be a stud…..just like Bishop. We were close to losing Bishop…he was sick of the bench and not being noticed.

    Every year I wait for Winston Moss to get a head coaching job cause I think he has done a crap job with the MLB’s.

    P.S.
    The Sanders defenses were unbelievably awful. Dom Capers is a genius and will show it again this year. Sanders was a complete moron.

    • Oppy

      Bishop WAS given chances earlier in his career, and every time he got on the field, he was an inconsistent mess.

      All the coaches saw the talent, but you are not going to win a starting job by making a TFL on first down, then completely blow your assignment and look totally lost on 3rd down.

      Bishop blew his chances early in his career with up and down play. He simply was not ready to be a starter. Now, his consistency has caught up with his talent, and it’s a big reason why the Packers let Barnett go.

      Nothing to complain about with how the Pack worked Bishop, IMO.

    • Oppy

      Plus, to be fair to Winston Moss, Who are the MLB’s Moss has coached up? Well, Barnett, although he wasn’t responsible for bringing him up. Other than that, Hawk, Bishop, Smith, Francois.. These guys haven’t known any other LB coach. Don’t forget that Hawk was originally an OLB, so not only did the scheme change on him, but also the position.

      Bishop, as you put it, is a stud. So is Smith, by your reckoning, who came in as a rook last year and ran the defensive calls in addition to playing well. Francois has played well with limited snaps, making some impact plays.

      Who coached them?

      Hawk plays consistent but underwhelming, the rest seem to play pretty good. I don’t think throwing Moss under the bus makes sense. In fact, I’d say Moss’ track record looks way better than Kevin Greene’s so far, who has produced one great player and an entire stable of guys who could get cut tomorrow and nobody would lose sleep over it.

      Talent or Coaching?

  • Don Majkowski

    I still can’t believe that samarai Nick Barnett was starting ahead of Desmond Bishop. When Barnett went down for the year, I gave a standing ovation. Call me cold and heartless….but I don’t care. “Mr. Beats” was terrible his last 4 years with the Packers and needed to go. I was so happy when Bishop was given his chance. Barnett ran like Daryl Thompson, unable to change direction with the lack of knee joints. His samarai sword thing and mouthguard made me embarrassed and sad….all at the same time. Thanks for making us go through that Mr. Winston Moss…..I don’t know how Desmond Bishop can look you in the eye at practice every day.

    • Oppy

      See above.

  • Greg

    We could have traded Hawk for Marshawn Lynch. Not now of course but a year and a half ago it was doable.

    • ThomasMagnumPI

      I would rather have gotten Sproles as a free agent–3.5 mil/year doesn’t seem like that much . . .

  • SchenySchen

    Its all about the money folks. If Smith can beat out Hawk at some point during the year, then TT will cut Hawk next offseason before having to dole out more cash. Hawk will start the season, Smith will finish it. It is possible that all the competition will somehow elevate Hawks play temporarily. Write it down, however, this is Hawks last season as a GB Packer. GoPack!

  • Lou

    The comment on Bishop not starting earlier in his career is right on, and if the same philosophy is in place Smith even if he outplays Hawk in camp and preseason will not start. On the other hand if per McCarthy and Capers indicating “if you don’t tackle you will not play” maybe because the defense was so bad the philosophy has changed and Smith could WIN the job. Hawk is so limited in coverage (why Chiller got such a big contract as a sub), never drives the runners backwards (hang on and hope for help), and does not have the instinct to create turnovers. Forget all the line them up correctly and veteran presence in the locker room, its time for the defense to PRODUCE. Hawk was the most overpaid player (production vs pay check)in the NFL last year (only if JaMarcus Russell was still playing would he have not won this title).

  • Mel e Mel

    Its pretty obvious that AJ was a Roid guy at OSU. Look at his understudy at Ohio State James Lauranitis. His dad was one of the Road Warriors. Look at the tape, notice how he can not hold up vs. the Run. He also can not chase guys down like he did in college. I saw him chase down Vince Young. Not anymore