Packers’ Hawk adjusts to reduced role

LB was on field for only half of the defensive snaps
Packers’ Hawk adjusts to reduced role

The Green Bay Packers aren’t phasing out A.J. Hawk from their youth-infused defense.

Even so, there is no telling what the future holds for the defense’s elder statesman after his surprisingly diminished role Sunday.

For only the seventh time in 151 Packers games (including playoffs) since Hawk started the 2006 season opener as a rookie, the linebacker didn’t start Sunday. The Packers wound up with a 26-21 win over the New England Patriots.

Hawk was on the field for only about half of the Patriots’ 54 offensive snaps. His lineup replacement, second-year player Sam Barrington, played more than 45 of those.

It was the first time Hawk didn’t start since he missed back-to-back games in early December 2011 because of a calf injury.

“It’s definitely different,” a gracious Hawk said after the game.

The former first-round draft pick and one-time Pro Bowl selection acknowledged he was told by the coaches last week he would be deferring to Barrington for the starting nod alongside Clay Matthews at inside linebacker. Hawk, 30, led the defense in playing time through the first 11 games this season and ranked second with 78 tackles.

On Sunday, however, he was relegated to playing the team’s sparingly employed 3-4 base scheme and also spelling Matthews on occasion as the sole inside linebacker in the dime.

“They communicated well with me,” Hawk said of the coaches. “They told me how they were going to match things up (with the Patriots’ potent offense) and try to put different packages together. They don’t have to have a big meeting with me. I’ve been here for a while. I think I’ve done it all with playing and not playing. It’s not something that’s going to change my view of things.”

The 6-foot-1, 240-pound Barrington made his third pro start, all in the past six games. Last year’s seventh-round draft pick started in place of an injured Jamari Lattimore beside Hawk in Green Bay’s two games before the bye week in late October.

Barrington contributed in situational roles the next three games, then responded to jumping back in as a starter by registering five tackles Sunday, including two big run stops in the Patriots’ first series.

“I think Sam, he’s starting to hit his stride,” coach Mike McCarthy said Monday. “At some point for all of your young players, the game tends to slow down a little bit and you’re able to go out there and play. I think that’s definitely where Sam is. I think he’s put together (a few) good weeks.”