The moment Clay Matthews went down vs. Detroit, many thought the season was lost.
Of course that was before A.J. Hawk took over.
The eighth year pro has heard the criticisms — a lot coming from myself. When he was drafted as the fifth overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, Hawk really never asserted himself as the dynamic defensive player he was the year prior at Ohio State.
Early on, big plays were few and far between and when he was assigned to pass coverage he usually got beat, by a fullback no less.
Fast forward to last season and he’s not as thick as he once was. He’s a lot more athletic and he’s been able to up his pass coverage game.
With a sleeker, more aerodynamic look on top, he had a career-best three sacks to help lead the Packers to its first road of the season. He also was tied for a game-best 10 total tackles.
But it’s not the stats that the Packers are going to relish. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers is loving the fact that his crew never dropped a step even though one of the best defenders in the league will be out for about a month with a Bennett’s fracture.
Think about that for a second. The Packers went into the defending Super Bowl champs’ house and owned the line of scrimmage on defense without its best player. Just to give you some perspective, this was the first home game the Ravens lost since losing to Denver on Dec. 16, 2012. They’ve always had suffocating defenses and teams have been known to get swallowed up in their intensity and ferocity.
But on Sunday, Hawk was the Packers’ Energizer Bunny. He had to be omnipresent and he responded. He was asked to make big plays and responded by stopping the Ravens on third down three times.
Hawk is the most misunderstood Packer on the team. He came to the team with a high pedigree after a successful career in Columbus. After signing a six-year $37.5 million contract, he struggled to live up to that bloated piece of paper. He was then released in 2011 and brought back for a discount.
Now, after getting booed at Lambeau Field multiple times and playing under two completely different defensive coordinators in Bob Sanders and Capers, Hawk is playing a lot better.
He has always been the leader of the defense in terms of understanding schemes and positioning, but now he is adding an element of on-field production as well.
And it couldn’t have come at a more opportune time with the offense sputtering thanks to key injuries and of course, Matthews’ injury.
It’s almost been kind of a role reversal for Hawk. Back in 2006, the expectations were enormous, he felt the imposing need to succeed and his play didn’t blossom like it should have. But now, he is playing with nothing to lose, which is exactly how young kids without deep pockets play.
He told Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he’s playing better because he has two kids. Speaking from experience, kids do help you focus and they amazingly give you a sense of purpose. (Which is great on those days that you smell like a bar bathroom because of the newborn baby).
Hawk is a great story of perseverance. He never gave up and still only 29, he has a great chance to be remembered for doing something great.——————
Cory Jennerjohn is from Wisconsin and has been in sports media for over 10 years. To contact Cory e-mail him at jeobs -at- yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter: Cory Jennerjohn