GREEN BAY, Wis. – Maybe A.J. Hawk is just another accomplished NFL player nearing the end of his career.
Or at least the end of his time with the Green Bay Packers.
How else can you describe the nine-year veteran's diminished playing time the last two weeks?
He continues to insist that he's not hurt, just as he did when first asked about it on Thanksgiving and then again Thursday after his closest friend on the team, quarterback Aaron Rodgers, suggested this week on his ESPN Milwaukee radio show that Hawk has been playing hurt and dealing with "a body that hasn’t been responding, I think, as well as he wanted it to at times this year."
"No, I'm not hurt. My body has bounced back every week," Hawk said Thursday after being told of Rodgers' comments. "I feel better older than I did younger. I think he was just trying to be supportive of a friend or teammate --I don't know."
Less than a month ago, Hawk played all 78 defensive snaps against the Philadelphia Eagles. A week later, he still played the majority – 55 of 68 snaps – against the Minnesota Vikings. But two weeks ago, his role was slashed. He took the field for less than half of the plays – 26 of 56 – against the New England Patriots. And on Monday night against the Atlanta Falcons, old No. 50 trotted out for just eight of 67 plays.
The last two weeks, defensive coordinator Dom Capers gave Hawk snaps in only one defensive package – his base 3-4, which he rarely employs anymore. Hawk, who used to play in both the nickel and dime package, has seen his role diminish in favor of Sam Barrington, Clay Matthews and even Brad Jones, depending on the game plan.
"I think he's probably better now that we aren't playing him [every snap]," Capers said. "There were a couple games he played 70 plays. We're always concerned about not overplaying our guys to where hopefully we can have him as healthy as we can have him through the month of December and hopefully a chance to play after that. I think A.J.'s fine now. 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."
The 30-year-old Hawk has spent his entire career with the team that drafted him fifth overall in 2006, although they did cut him once, in March 2011, only to sign him back under different terms one day later. He's one of the most insightful players on the team on the rare occasion that he shows up in the locker room during the week of a game, but he has never been comfortable talking about himself.
"It doesn't matter; no one cares," Hawk said at his locker. "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 here. Nothing is about me. It shouldn't be about me. It's dumb to talk about me. We're 10-3."
Hawk said he has thought about the end of his career but doesn't believe he's at that point yet. He has one more year remaining on his current contract, which pays him $3.5 million in salary and bonuses this season and calls for him to make the same next season.
"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. But I have no idea. I can't predict the future; I definitely don't try to. I don't deal in hypotheticals, that's for sure. They can tap me on the shoulder right now and get me out of here. So our contracts aren't real contracts like that. They're not obliged to keep me here through the end of, what, next year, I guess, my contract is.
"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."