Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk responds to speculation that he might be playing through an injury. (Dec. 11, 2014) Weston Hodkiewicz
A.J. Hawk doesn't want to be a distraction, but he also understands what it looks like when the Green Bay Packers' all-time leading tackler is suddenly relegated to the sideline.
The Packers continued to scale back Hawk's snaps significantly in Monday's 43-37 win over the Atlanta Falcons. He played only eight defensive snaps in the 3-4 base defense, a week after seeing his rep count dip to 26 in the Packers' 26-21 win over New England.
Hawk and defensive coordinator Dom Capers said that the 30-year-old linebacker is healthy. It's just that the defense has changed course over the past 13 weeks with Hawk and Brad Jones taking a backseat to Clay Matthews and Sam Barrington in the Packers' most prominent package, the five-defensive back nickel.
An ironman since he was drafted in 2006, Hawk's had to deal with an altered role in Capers' defense after starting in 134 of 135 games in which he'd been active. But he isn't carrying any sour grapes, either.
"You don't need to sit there and whine about it," Hawk said. "It doesn't matter. No one cares. Everyone is in their own life and they should be. This team is playing really well. That's why I was hesitant to even come in (the locker room). Nothing is about me. It shouldn't be about me. It's dumb to talk about me. We're 10-3. … I shouldn't be a storyline."
There's been some thought Hawk might be playing through an injury. During his ESPN Wisconsin radio show this week, quarterback Aaron Rodgers said: "He's been dealing with (a) body that hasn't been responding I think as well as he wanted it to at times this year."
Hawk is adamant his body is responding like it always has. When asked if he's able to bounce back from games like he did two or three years ago, the former Pro Bowler replied in the affirmative.
Capers seemed to suggest Hawk's previous heavy workload might have resulted in the changes. Like he has for most of his career, Hawk had played more than 90 percent of the defensive snaps through the first 11 games. He's still second on the team with 80 tackles.
"I think A.J.'s fine now," Capers said. "I think he's better right now with the fact that he hasn't played 70 plays the last couple weeks. I think that will bode well for us moving forward."
Capers maintains Hawk still has a role in his defense. Right now, it's in the Okie package, but he could very well end up back in the popular nickel before the season is through. It just depends on matchup and availability.
Hawk acknowledges NFL contracts aren't ironclad and his time in Green Bay could end at any moment. The deal he restructured in March 2013 runs through the 2015 season, paying him the same $3.5 million he's making this season.
He could be released after the season if the Packers are willing to accept a $1.6 million penalty against the 2015 cap.
"I've been preparing since the day I walked in here for the day I get cut," Hawk said. "I've been cut before, so whenever they decide to let me roll, that's something I've been preparing for since I was 21 basically, when I got drafted.
"So I don't think I let like my mind wander or anything towards what could happen. That's not up to me, but try to hopefully get another ring at least before they give me the boot."
Hawk said he still has more football ahead of him, but that's talk for down the road. Hawk's living in the present. His snaps aren't guaranteed and he's OK with that. His job now is to be ready whenever called upon.
"I want to play as long as I can," Hawk said. "I feel good. Of course, anyone would dream to have your whole career with the Packers. That's anybody's dream I think as a kid. The reality is that's pretty tough to do. If that happens, I'd be pumped and it would be my dream come true, but if not, I feel like I still can play and if another team would give you a shot, how are you going to turn it down? I can only speak for right now. I can't speak for whenever that time may be."
-- firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.