A.J. Hawk apparently let his head coach know that he wasn’t thrilled that he didn’t get to play in Sunday’s game against the Raiders. Mike McCarthy made light of the situation in his press conference yesterday, but for Hawk it is no laughing matter.
Why? Because he’s watching a rookie play, and play quite well, in his place. In fact that rookie, D.J. Smith, seems to be improving with every snap he takes. While it’s true that Robert Farncois will most likely come off the field when Hawk returns, it can’t be denied that Smith is the best linebacker on the bench on this team – and maybe he shouldn’t be on the bench.
One of the worries heading into the game against the Giants last week was determining which defenders would be tasked with wearing the defensive headset. Smith has not only taken over Hawk’s duties of relaying the defensive calls, the rookie is playing at a high level while doing so. Smith was everywhere on Sunday, leading the team in tackles and making a big play by intercepting Carson Palmer on the Raiders’ opening drive.
Big plays have been few and far between for Hawk and his perceived value has been the fact that he gets guys in the right place, makes sure the defense is never too high or low, and is generally assignment-sure. His teammates have credited his steady demeanor for keeping them focused, even after giving up big plays. It’s no surprise then that the Packers signed Hawk to a five-year, $33.75 million contract this past offseason. But the more Smith plays, and the better he looks, the harder it will be to keep him off the field, even when Hawk comes back healthy.
The Packers probably waited too long to get Desmond Bishop on the field in favor of previous starter Nick Barnett. Hawk can see how well Smith is playing and certainly doesn’t want the rookie giving the coaches any reason to revisit how they waited too long to get Bishop on the field.