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What Will The Packers Do With A.J. Hawk?

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Plenty share blame for Packers defense's woeful showing - JSOnline. Bob McGinn's never been too shy about laying some blame at the feet of the Green Bay Packers. And he's leveled some criticism right on LB A.J. Hawk. He thinks that Hawk should have never gotten a five-year contract in March 2011, and Nick Barnett looks like the better player.

Now I'm no fan of Hawk, his stats took a nose dive in 2011, and he just wasn't visible on most plays. Was he out of position? Was he blocked out of the play? I wasn't thrilled to see Barnett released, but he's not coming back. So what to do next season?

1. Replace him. This is actually my least favorite option. The Packers aren't going to pursue anyone in free agency, and Hawk's arguably better than some of those candidates anyway. Rookie D.J. Smith played well in 3+ games, but can he do the same over 16 games? Is he much of an improvement anyway? They are unlikely to use a high draft choice either because they haven't used anything higher than a 6th round pick on a middle linebacker since they drafted Hawk back in 2006.

2. Upgrade the pass rush, and the safety position. In the end, instead of blaming just Hawk, I concluded that the entire defense shared in the blame. They need to find another defensive lineman to play alongside B.J. Raji who can rush the passer. And they need a better pass rushing outside linebacker to play opposite Clay Matthews. Finally, if Nick Collins can't return, they need someone other than Charlie Peprah at safety. Add new players at those three positions, and I would expect Hawk will play better next season.

3. Change the defense. It was a lousy 2011 for the entire defense, and defensive coordinator Dom Capers can't avoid blame. I do admit this seems unlikely, but Mike McCarthy hasn't announced his 2012 coaching staff yet.

I expect Hawk will return in 2012, and he'll be penciled in as the starting inside linebacker. But if someone like Smith, or a new 2012 rookie, can come into camp and outplay Hawk, then I wouldn't be surprised to see him in a rotation. At the start of the 2010 season, he was supposed to play only on early downs, and Brandon Chillar would play in the nickel package. The Packers could use a better player than Hawk, but replacing him shouldn't be the top priority this offseason.