Last Season, in the absence of Clay Matthews, AJ flashed greatness a time or two. In the Ravens game he played like his hair was on fire. Registering 3 sacks and with ten tackles, five of which were for loss. That kind of performance is the kind we expected out of Hawk coming out of Ohio State in ’06. But it wasn’t just that game. For the season AJ registered 118 tackles, 5 sacks, a fumble forced and recovered. AJ has and always will be a tackling machine, partly due to his position but there is another reason as well:
If you wanna have your cake…
Like I said above, I have been critical too…not of AJ’s play but of his play relative to his draft pick. But how many of us out there in Packernation complain about the injuries and the fact that even our best players (Rodgers, Matthews) are missing significant time? Now, take a look down the “games” column in AJ’s stats…nothin’ but 16’s. We complain about AJ but the guy is always there. The greatest player on the planet can only do his team good when he is on the field and AJ has not been the greatest player on the planet but he has been available and flashed greatness from time to time. Often in the NFL the best players are the ones that are the most reckless and those players are often injured (Bob Sanders, Clay Matthews, Troy Polomalu). Part of the reason that AJ has been available may be because he has played smart, but there could be a tradeoff in that he is not as impactful because of it. Perhaps we can’t have our cake and eat it too here…
And this season is going to be different anyway
This season AJ will play with the possibility of three play-makers on the field. In addition to Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers and Datone Jones will be forcing offensive lines to shift protection and this will open up opportunities for AJ. But AJ will still have to play better. Remember, this is a guy who took a pay cut a few years back and was getting limited to two down duty for awhile. But I think all that is going to work in AJ’s favor because he now knows that he is going to have to throw caution to the wind and get after it if he is going to keep his job. He has shown he is capable of doing it and I for one think he will. We will begin to see what’s what come Saturday when the Packers training camp opens up and the competition begins. But AJ will surely be playing knowing that his spot is not a given this time around.
Time will tell
Time will tell if AJ comes into his own this season. So far we have seen a lot of time go by and little to say that he will. But if AJ can put together a string of performances like he had against the Ravens last season, he will be on the path to becoming the kind of player the Packers thought he could be. Unfortunately, that time also gets shorter with each passing season. Here’s to 2014, the year AJ makes his mark.