Something curious occurred to Desmond Bishop before he walked out of the locker room after the final day of training camp practices. He wasn't reflecting on how only a year ago his role was primarily that of an ace special teams players and reserve inside linebacker. Those are necessary and appreciated duties on every team, though Bishop has graduated from that being his job description.
It wasn't only that he had now hung skins on the wall after starting 12 games in 2010, proving himself by ranking second on the team with a career-high 121 tackles and recording three sacks. Bishop also had his first career interception, which he returned 32 yards for a touchdown vs. Minnesota.
It was that maybe a fraction of the edginess that had burned so brightly while he toiled as a backup has vanished since he received a battlefield promotion to the starting lineup last year.
"I think this is the first training camp that I didn't get into a fight," Bishop said quietly.
It doesn't mean that the 240-pound Bishop doesn't still patrol the second level of the defense with a fiery spirit. Long one of the defense's most rugged hitters, Bishop's hard-charging style of play hasn't been altered. It's just that the 27-year-old has now grown in stature and maturity, and that at least in practice the aggressiveness is now on simmer.
"Last year, I went from young guy to established veteran in a few games," Bishop said. "I think in past years I had a lot to prove and I did whatever it took to show what I could do, in practice and in games."
Bishop was a key performer for the Packers before 2010. The sixth-round pick in '07 had recorded more special teams stops than any player since Bishop arrived in Green Bay, and he was also used in extra linebacker sets and had seen action in both the middle and on the weak-side during his career.
When Nick Barnett suffered a season-ending wrist injury vs. Detroit, Oct. 3, Bishop was elevated to the starting lineup and emerged as one of the defense's mainstays. In the first game, he opened in the absence of Barnett and in only the second start of his career, Bishop responded by notching 13 tackles, a sack, three quarterback hits and by breaking up a pass against Washington.
He had five more double-digit-tackle games, and Bishop's 10 pass-defenses were the most by a Green Bay linebacker since John Anderson had 15 in 1981. After his 12 games as a starter and the performances he strung together in the postseason – a combined 30 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries in four contests – Bishop has been cast in a new light.
The transformation in stature over the last year for the linebacker has been remarkable.
"I think I'm in a position now where I'm being watched by other players, so I want to be professional on all levels," Bishop said. "Definitely compared to the past I'm more of a leader. Last year, I got a feel for that, and now I've tried to grow into it even more."
Bishop, who had nine tackles and a fumble recovery in Super Bowl XLV, routinely sends the sound of his shoulder pads crunching against a ball-carrier echoing off stadium walls. With his reckless gift for filling holes in a hurry, he may be the defense's most sudden hitter. There were memorable collisions last year against Minnesota's Adrian Peterson and Dallas running back Felix Jones, and he drilled Jets wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery near the conclusion of a banner day for the defense in a 9-0 shutout.
Coolness in practice hasn't changed his style. Assistant Head Coach/Inside Linebackers Winston Moss preaches consistency in approach and character. For Bishop, forceful, aggressive tackling is part of the foundation of his play.
"Winston tells all of us, 'Just go be you,' on the field," said Bishop. "That's what I do."