Notice the comment from Moss.. "when my job is on the line"... I think it is safe to say, the heat has been applied at 1265 Lombardi..
GREEN BAY -- If the Green Bay Packers are serious about playing their best three linebackers, they may have a difficult decision before Sunday's game at Jacksonville.
With Brandon Chillar returning to full participation in practice Thursday, Desmond Bishop having had a greater impact in one game than his linebacking mates have had all season and linebackers coach Winston Moss openly calling for A.J. Hawk to be more productive, might the coaches consider a lineup of Chillar, Bishop and Brady Poppinga?
"When my job is on the line, the guys that give us the best chance to win within the game plan, they're the guys who play," Moss said Thursday.
Perhaps, but Bishop realizes he wasn't the No. 5 overall pick in the 2006 NFL draft like Hawk, and he wasn't the team's lone offseason free-agent signing like Chillar. Thus, as a 2007 sixth-round draft pick, he could find himself back on the bench Sunday against the Jaguars, despite his productivity.
Asked if his performance in Sunday's loss to Houston -- 12 tackles, a sack, another tackle for loss and two forced fumbles -- merited him starting at will linebacker against the Jaguars regardless of Chillar's health, Bishop chose his words carefully.
"I don't know. I don't think it's about what you do anymore," said Bishop, who started at will linebacker against the Texans after Chillar suffered a groin injury in practice during the week. "I think it's beyond that. It's something else. I don't know what it is, but it's something beyond what you do on the field. I don't know how to explain it. I don't even know if that made sense."
Actually, it makes perfect sense. When starting middle linebacker Nick Barnett was lost for the year with a torn ACL in his right knee suffered Nov. 9 at Minnesota, Bishop finished the game at the position. But the coaches decided to shift Hawk from the weakside into the middle and start Chillar at Hawk's spot.
Hawk (12 tackles) and Chillar (six tackles, one pass breakup, one quarterback pressure) both responded with strong performances against Chicago on Nov. 16, but Hawk hasn't played well in the three games since, causing Moss to call for more productivity from him this week.
Hawk, who suffered a preseason chest injury and played through a groin injury suffered Sept. 28 at Tampa Bay, enters Sunday's game with a team-high 90 tackles, two sacks (both at Detroit Sept. 14) and two pass breakups but no interceptions, fumbles forced or recovered.
"We need to get more production out of him. And I think he's well aware of that," Moss said Monday. "With his talent level and the position he's in right now, we're going to expect more, we're demanding more. I think he's ready to give that, so with that, our emphasis is going to be on him getting in good positions to be impactful.
"I'm confident in A.J. I'm a big A.J. fan. And I spend a lot of time with him. I have as much invested in him doing well as he (does) in himself. He's going to get back on track and he's going to make some plays for us before this is over with."
On Thursday, Moss added, "There's been some flashes in the past. This year, he started off fast. He had some sacks, had a lot of tackles early on, and he was fighting through that (chest) injury. Then all of a sudden, he tweaks his groin, so he takes a step back. Then we switch positions on him.
Asked Thursday if Moss is right that he hasn't had the impact he should, Hawk replied, "Of course I haven't. I haven't been producing as much as I should have. I definitely want to produce more. I can handle (the criticism). I talked to (Moss). We communicate. So it's nothing new. I know what's going on."
Chillar said after practice he is "definitely better" than he was last week, when he strained his groin during team drills. Asked if he thought there is a chance he may not start against Jacksonville even if he's healthy, Chillar stuck to the script he's been following since Poppinga beat him out for the starting sam linebacker job in training camp.
"I'm not sure. I guess we'll have to find out," Chillar said. "(Bishop) did a good job stepping in and playing. We'll see where it leads us. I'll try to help the team wherever I can. That's been my stance the whole year."
When asked what he'll do Sunday given Bishop's strong performance against Houston, coach Mike McCarthy acknowleged it is an "excellent question."
"I think it's very obvious, you don't have enough good quality productive football players," McCarthy said. "So we'll find a way to make that work."
Granted, Bishop hasn't played flawless football. Against Minnesota, he overran running back Chester Taylor on a short checkdown pass, allowing Taylor to sprint 47 yards for a touchdown on his first play from scrimmage. Then, on Adrian Peterson's go-ahead 29-yard touchdown run with 2:22 left in the game, Bishop was out of his gap and left Peterson an open lane to the end zone.
Against the Texans, while his strip of tight end Owen Daniels saved a touchdown and his sack and 3-yard tackle-for-loss of Cecil Sapp were both big plays, he also lost coverage on Daniels on a 27-yard completion to set up the game-winning field goal.
"I think I could've done things better. You can always do more, but I think I did well," said Bishop, who leads the team in fumbles forced (three). "I think with more reps, I could even be better."
Moss doesn't disagree. He just wants to see more evidence before recommending any bold moves.
"The jury's still out on Bishop as far as what kind of player he is," Moss said. "We know that he's a very talented player, a very active player. He flashed in the preseason. If I had more of a body of work on Bishop to compare against A.J., then I would be able to answer a little bit better. I'm still holding on that when it's all said and done, A.J. has not given me any (reason to think) that he's not able to be impactful. Could he have played some things better? Absolutely. You can go down the line and say that about every player on this team.
"I would have to say that Bishop has done well when he's been in there. Now, we can find ways to get guys on the field. As a staff, as always, we go into it trying to find the best combination that gives us the best chance to win. If he's part of that group, he's in there."