A Visit to the Hawks’ Nest
On his bye week, Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk went home to Ohio to spend time with his family. He also went heavy on the squat rack in his basement, interviewed a retired Navy SEAL, carved pumpkins for Halloween and took a long, hard look at Green Bay’s 32nd-ranked run defense
By A.J. HAWK
DUBLIN, Ohio — It’s noon on Wednesday, and I’m sitting in my kitchen. Not out on the practice field. Breaking routine always feels a little bit weird, but good.
Our coach, Mike McCarthy, takes care of us on our bye week. We got home from New Orleans early Monday, around 3:30 a.m., and after a brief workout later in the day we were free to leave Green Bay that afternoon. By 8 p.m. Monday, I was back in Ohio, where my wife, Laura, and I built a house a few miles from where she grew up.
Last Sunday night in New Orleans, we got beat badly. We didn’t play great, and the Saints were on fire. Not the kind of game you want to have going into your bye week. We had talked about that beforehand: Let’s go into the off week with some momentum and feeling good about where we’re at. We still feel good about where we are as a team. We know we are not going to panic or anything. But it makes your days at home a little better when you know you put a good performance out there.
Last year, our bye week was Week 4, and it was weird having it that early. Having it right in the middle of the season like this is nice. We have a lot more games and, hopefully, a long playoff run ahead of us. For players, the bye week is like doing a 24-hour fast: it resets your body.
It’s not just games during the season that take a toll; it’s the practices, too. They’re not like NBA shootarounds. We have practices where you are out there hitting, so taking a step away helps everyone. But I’ll work out in some form every day this week, because I believe that’s the best way to recover. My mindset has always been to push through soreness, rather than acknowledge it. As long as I don’t have a glaring injury—and I have been lucky to stay healthy during my nine-year career—I just like to keep moving and work through it.
My daughter Lennon, who is almost 4, asks me at bedtime, “Are you going to be here when I wake up, or does coach need you at football?” This week, I have been eating breakfast with the kids and playing YouTube videos that they sing and dance to.
I usually do one heavy squat day each game week, to help push out the soreness, so that’s what I did on Tuesday. I built a gym in my basement, so I can do all my workouts at the house. Wednesday morning, I worked out on the VersaClimber, the same vertical climbing machine we have in Green Bay. I don’t like to run on a treadmill—my knees and feet don’t need that—but this lets you condition without pounding on your joints. I try to simulate the bursts of activity in games, so I’ll sprint hard for 10 to 15 seconds at a time, then take 20 seconds off, like you would between plays. I also did some kettlebell swings and medicine ball slams.
My 20-month-old son, Hendrix, likes to come down to the gym and try to pick up one of the small kettlebells. This is one of the best parts of the bye week. Most of the time during the season, I’m not home during the day or when our kids wake up. Most days my daughter Lennon, who is almost 4, asks me at bedtime, “Are you going to be here when I wake up, or does coach need you at football?” This week, I have been eating breakfast with them—eggs for me, oatmeal for the kids—and playing YouTube videos that they sing and dance to. Lennon is really into that song, “All About That Bass.” We also play a lot of John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix, the musicians the kids are named after. I don’t want the old classic rockers to be forgotten.
While the kids were at pre-preschool on Tuesday morning, I posted my recent podcast, The HawkCast, on my website, AJHawk.com. It’s part of a series of long-form conversations I started doing with interesting people in all fields. This week’s is with Jimmy Hatch, a retired Navy SEAL who was wounded on an attempted rescue mission of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. On Wednesday, we carved pumpkins with my in-laws, and we’ll take the kids trick-or-treating on Thursday. They’re dressing up as old people, with a little gray beard for Hendrix.
After the kids go to bed at night, I can spend some time watching film. We play Chicago when we come back, so I’ll definitely watch the game we played against the Bears a month ago. Then I’ll also take a look at what they have been doing over the past three or four weeks, just to get a broad overview on them before I get back in town. I start by watching the full game, before we get the cut-ups next week, because I like to get the flow of the game. Especially as the defensive signal caller, it helps me put myself in the shoes of the defense. Rather than just seeing clips here and there of what they are running out of a certain formation, I want to know what led up to that, and why the Bears might be coming back to certain formations and runs.
Before I left Green Bay, I watched our game against the Saints, and some of the plays have been running through my head. It’s nothing huge where you wonder, How are we going to fix things? Even though we got beat pretty good, it is still tiny things we have to adjust. Simple stuff. Stay in our gaps and stay square. As linebackers, we have to get downhill and try to attack the guys on the other side of the line of scrimmage, not hit them three or four yards down the field and let them drag you for a yard or two. Those five- and six-yard gains really hurt you as a defense. If you put Drew Brees in second-and-short, you’re not going to have a good day, usually.
We’ve got to find a way to shore up our run defense, because as the season wears on and it gets colder, that becomes more important on every team. When it comes to stopping the run, we are not discouraged—we just need to find a way to get it done. We’ve been doing it well in practice, but it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t carry it over to the game. Our offense is so explosive; it’s really up to us as a defense to get the ball back to Aaron Rodgers.
The bye week always gets you reenergized for the second half of the season. Entering the bye off a bad loss makes guys want to get back out on the field even more, to right the wrongs we recently had. In some jobs, when you take a week off work, it can be tough to come back. But in football, I don’t think any player feels that way. When you get back, and you get to do something physical, you have that feeling of, Alright, this is where I am supposed to be.
I’m heading back to Wisconsin on Saturday morning for a wedding in Lake Geneva. (No, I’m not officiating it.) Then it’s back to work on Monday morning. Another game week begins.