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.Follow @MatthewJStein