A.J. Hawk remembers sitting in Riverfront Stadium as a kid growing up in Centerville. Even as his career turned him into a beloved figure with the Green Bay Packers, he always kept a close eye on his hometown team.

When the Packers finally released their franchise's leading tackler last month, anybody who knew Hawk well could predict exactly where he wanted to land.

"I figured once the (Packers) were done with me, it would be kind of a dream to come back here," Hawk said after officially signing his two-year contract Wednesday. "Now it's a reality. It was 100 percent my first choice."

The match worked out ideally for the Bengals, who will shell out $3.25 million over two years with $500K guaranteed. Hawk will fall into place, providing depth and leadership at linebacker. He'll attempt to convert from a 3-4 defense in Green Bay to the 4-3 under defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, but admits "football is football."

Still, questions about defensive scheme don't top the list of questions he's asked. At least, not while everyone wants to know how much the 31-year-old has left in the tank after 142 regular-season games.

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Bengals beat writer Paul Dehner Jr. reports on the Bengals re-signing Clint Boling and adding A.J. Hawk for depth at linebacker. The Enquirer/Kareem Elgazzar

"I get asked that a lot. I honestly couldn't tell you," Hawk said. "I want to play as long as I feel like I'm still able to contribute and mentally there. My head feels great. I've been very lucky when it comes to that, with injuries and everything. I've done my best to take care of myself. It's hard to put a number on that. I love playing. I have a passion for it. So as long as that's good, I'm going to try to do give it a shot."

He'll also be reunited with his high school and college teammate, Mike Nugent, admitting their wives have been friends since grade school. Nugent's glowing reviews of his NFL home helped forge comfort in Hawk signing.

Lewis' knowledge of Hawk as one of the great locker room leaders during his run of success in Green Bay helped sell him.

"When you add a guy with his experience and then the other younger guys and you bring young guys in they see that," Lewis said. "They're great mentors for those guys as well as what they add to the football team daily on the field."

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