A.J. Hawk vs D.J. Smith: The Brewing Battle at Inside Linebacker
By now you know the drill:
- Hawk bashers say he hasn’t come close to meeting the expectations of a No. 5 overall draft choice and that he’s undeserving of his five-year, $33.75 million contract.
- Hawk supporters say the linebacker is a steady presence on a sometimes chaotic defense and that his value shouldn’t be judged by raw statistics or the number of SportsCenter highlight-worthy plays he makes.
Both Hawk and Desmond Bishop got hurt on Thanksgiving. D.J. Smith and Robert Francois have filled in admirably and the Packers remain undefeated. Smith has played so well that there has to be some discussions among the Packers coaching staff about Hawk’s role when he returns.
Hawk has 39 solo tackles in 11 games this season, about 3.5 per game. Since taking over for Hawk, Smith has 18 solo tackles in about three games, an average of six per game.
Smith was all over the field on Sunday against the Raiders. He picked off Carson Palmer and made the sort of tackles that get you noticed by the television cameras. In other words, Smith made plays and did things Hawk hasn’t been able to do (unless you consider flicking off your own bench getting noticed).
So what’s the right answer? Should Hawk or Smith get the nod at inside linebacker down the stretch? Only Mike McCarthy and Dom Capers know.
I don’t mean to sit on the fence on this issue. I wish I saw things clearly enough to boldly proclaim that Smith should play, or that Hawk shouldn’t be relegated to backup duty quite yet. But I really think this is another instance where Packers fans need to trust McCarthy and Capers to read their team and do what’s right.
Ted Thompson gave Hawk a lot of money this offseason. The Packers don’t hand out huge contracts to just anybody. They clearly felt that Hawk could play and this defense needed him. I don’t think they’re ready to just replace him with a sixth-round draft pick during one of the most important stretches in franchise history.
On the other hand, the Packers have a high batting average when it comes to moving on from veterans and giving a talented younger player a chance. It’s entirely possible that the coaches see something special in Smith and Hawk’s playing time could be limited once he and Bishop are healthy.
I do think Hawk will get the nod once he returns and I also think McCarthy won’t hesitate to give Smith some snaps, too. Instead of asking whether Hawk or Smith should play, I think we should be asking which version of A.J. Hawk the Packers will be getting back?
Will it be the cool, calm and collected Hawk: The captain of the defense who might not make a ton of plays but knows where everyone should be on the field?
Or the pissed off and out-to-prove-something Hawk: The established veteran that picks up his play because he doesn’t want to lose his spot on an undefeated team to some rookie.
Hopefully it’s a combination of both. If not, D.J. Smith might find himself right back on the field.——————