From the moment Dr. Pat McKenzie slung Desmond Bishop’s right arm over his shoulder Thursday night in San Diego, the Green Bay Packers team doctor feared the worst.
Bishop, the Green Bay Packers’ leading tackler last season and one of its heart-and-soul players from his inside linebacker position, had had his right leg bent awkwardly beneath him while trying to tackle Chargers running back Ronnie Brown, and while it appeared the initial concern should be for Bishop’s knee, it was actually his hamstring that worried McKenzie.
And when McKenzie examined Bishop’s hamstring upon returning to Green Bay, his worst fears were realized: A tear that could very well end Bishop’s 2012 season before it starts.
“Unfortunately, the hamstring injury was what we feared,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said matter-of-factly after practice Saturday night. “Surgery is imminent, and Desmond’s season is in jeopardy. Once we have the surgery, we’ll have a better idea on his status for this season.”
Bishop also suffered a knee sprain on the play, “but the hamstring is what’s going to keep him out,” McCarthy said.
Bishop was arguably the Packers’ best defensive player last season. Despite missing three games with a calf strain suffered in Detroit on Thanksgiving, Bishop led the Packers with 142 tackles (including a team-best 109 solo) and registered five sacks, good for second-most on the team (to Clay Matthews’ six). He also forced two fumbles, tied for second on the team (behind Matthews’ three).
And according to ProFootballFocus.com, on self-described bad-tackling team, Bishop was among the NFL’s best linebackers in tackling efficiency over the past three years. Playing 1,624 snaps – he didn’t become a full-time starter until Nick Barnett’s 2010 wrist injury opened the door for him – over the past three seasons, Bishop missed just 14 tackles by ProFootballFocus.com’s count, ranking him 12th in the NFL among linebackers with one miss per every 16.1 tackle attempts.
“If he maxes out his potential, talent and skill set, he’s as good as any linebacker in the league,” inside linebackers coach Winston Moss said this offseason. “He can cover, he can blitz and he can stuff the run.”
While Bishop’s primary backup at “Mack” linebacker, D.J. Smith, was also productive (38 tackles, one interception in three starts), the defense will miss Bishop terribly. His playmaking ability allowed the defense to get by with fellow inside linebacker A.J. Hawk, who starts at “Buck” linebacker, making very few plays (1.5 sacks, zero interceptions, zero fumbles forced or recovered last season) but filling the key role of defensive play-caller and leader.
“Personally, I feel just terrible. It was a very unusual injury. If you have a chance to see it on film, it’s just unfortunate,” McCarthy said of Bishop. “Everyone knows the type of player Desmond is for us. He’s definitely one of the spiritual-type of individuals (with) he energy he brings to the workplace and just the way he plays. He puts so much into it. After last year with his calf injuries, I know he was really looking forward to having a big year.
“It’s never a good time when you see one of your players get hurt and have their season in jeopardy. As far as the team, this is an unfortunate part of the game of football. I look for our linebackers to step up. We have a lot of depth there. It will create more opportunities for those guys.”
At an NFL owners meeting in May, the competition committee passed a rule change that every club will now have the option to designate a single injured player who was on the roster through Week 1 as a reserve exemption, and that player will be eligible to practice in six weeks after that time and play in a game eight weeks after the designation. Bishop could be eligible for this new rule, if the Packers keep him on the 53-man roster for the Sept. 9 opener.
However, ESPN’s John Clayton reported Friday that the NFL notified teams Thursday that it has not yet received approval from the NFL Players Association for rule change.
Asked about the possibility of Bishop utilizing the new rule if it’s officially passed, McCarthy acknowledged it’s a possibility but the team won’t know the prognosis until after McKenzie performs the surgery to reattach Bishop’s hamstring.
“That’s an option. We’ve talked about a number of those options,” McCarthy said. “Frankly, it’s the medical operation that will drive that decision. I think it’s important for Pat to go in there and see exactly what he’s dealing with. It was what Dr. McKenzie feared Thursday night and unfortunately, we’re in this situation.”
McCarthy said the surgery has not yet been scheduled but will take place in the “near future,” after the swelling goes down.
Smith, meanwhile, will have to step into the breach and deliver, just as Bishop did when Barnett suffered a season-ending wrist injury early in the 2010 season. Bishop wound up helping the Packers to the Super Bowl XLV title.
“You can’t replace him but you sure can just try to fill the void as much as possible and as best as possible,” Smith said. “I think (last year) prepared me a little bit. The more reps you get, the more you’ll be ready to play. The more and more reps I get, the more I’ll be ready to go. If that’s the way it ends up, I’m ready for it.”