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Hawk's Game Getting More Instinctive


It wasn't just his first NFL sack, but it was a play that illustrated just how well rookie linebacker A.J. Hawk is recognizing and reacting to what he's seeing on the field.

Early in the fourth quarter on Sunday against the Lions, Detroit faced second-and-10 from its own 16-yard line. Quarterback Jon Kitna dropped back to pass, and Hawk was assigned to cover a running back should he come out of the backfield.

But the back stayed in to block, and upon reading that Hawk immediately blitzed, sprinting through an opening in the middle of the line and burying Kitna for a 9-yard loss, forcing a third-and-long Detroit couldn't convert.

"He triggered, and that's what we do," defensive coordinator Bob Sanders said. "That was an excellent play by him. (That's) having a feel in the game."

Hawk's feel for the NFL seems to get more palpable with each passing week. Drafted fifth overall in the first round by the Packers in April after a standout career at Ohio State, Hawk has been the starting weak-side linebacker since he arrived in Green Bay.

His tackle total has increased with each game, going from five against Chicago to seven against New Orleans to eight last week.

His speed is his best physical attribute, which he displayed in getting that sack and when he chased down the Saints running back Reggie Bush for a 1-yard loss on a handoff the previous week. Against Detroit, he also ran down running back Kevin Jones after a pass reception, stopping him for no gain on a fourth-quarter first down play.

But for those who expected Hawk to dominate from his first NFL snap, the Packers coaching staff preached patience. The instincts that made him such a force in college hadn't disappeared. His reads and reactions simply needed time to develop into similar instincts at the pro level, and while that process is still ongoing, it's taking hold now on the field.

"He's explosive and tackles well," Sanders said. "He's getting more and more comfortable with the speed of the game and he's seeing more things and getting himself in position to make plays."

Hawk is by no means playing perfectly, though. Sanders noted on Roy Williams' 42-yard touchdown pass for the Lions, Hawk needed to drop deeper in pass coverage in the middle of the field to allow safety Nick Collins to stay in better position for the deep corner route, which Williams scored on.

Getting those assignments down concerns Hawk more than making highlight-reel plays right now. A humble, low-key player, Hawk doesn't necessarily seek the spotlight or feel the defense needs to feature any individual player.

"I just want to come in there and let my teammates know they can count on me, that I'll be accountable and I'll be in my position and do my job," Hawk said. "When you're playing with as much talent as I have around me, you should do well. These guys we have are unbelievable. It's a fun defense to be a part of."

That said, linebackers coach Winston Moss feels Hawk understands the high productivity expected of him as such a high draft pick, and his pride along with his talent will make sure he lives up to that.

Now that he's started to make some more noticeable plays, it remains to be seen whether opposing offenses will do any scheming to limit his impact.

"I don't think they'll change their philosophy," Sanders said. "They're going to do what they do. Detroit did what we thought they would do, maybe a wrinkle here or there."

That will continue to leave Hawk's sacks and other impact plays up to his reads, reactions and evolving instincts. The development may be just beginning.

"It depends on how an offense attacks us - is he going to get that opportunity?" Moss said. "I can say that from the opportunities he's had in the three games that we've played, he's pretty much made the most of them.

"The longer he plays and the more comfortable he feels, he's going to have a chance to anticipate and start to steal plays here and there. This scheme has a lot of ways that he can make plays within it."

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