Bishop fully healed, focused on improving

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Desmond Bishop isn’t content with simply being as good as he used to be. No, the Green Bay Packers’ inside linebacker wants to be a markedly improved player after missing the entire 2012 season with a torn right hamstring.

“I’m focused on being better and stronger than I was before,” Bishop told this week. “I’m working toward showing that I can be better and stronger.”

If Bishop achieves his goal of being better than ever, it will mean outperforming a 2011 season in which he led Green Bay in tackles and was second in sacks despite playing in only 13 games.

Bishop, 28, guarantees he’ll be ready for a full workload when training camp opens in July and plans to prove that a year off and a surgically repaired hamstring haven’t slowed him down. Though he still needs to meet with the Packers’ team doctors to officially be cleared, Bishop is completely recovered from the injury he suffered in Green Bay’s 2012 preseason opener.

“Every hurdle has been cleared; I can do everything,” Bishop said. “The past couple weeks, I’ve been cranking it up a little bit.”

Becoming a distant observer of the NFL during the 2012 season wasn’t what Bishop had in mind, but it did give him an opportunity to watch the Packers’ defense perform without him. The time away from the field also allowed him to watch other teams throughout the league. That experience has given Bishop a unique perspective on how to make Green Bay a better overall defense next season.

“Hopefully I can be infectious to the other guys with a sense of urgency and passion that you have to have in order to win,” Bishop said. “I think that’s the biggest thing our defense lacked last year was that mindset. That’s what I want to bring this year for the team.

“I have a renewed sense of respect and urgency about the game. Looking at the guys, especially on defense, I can’t wait to get back and plant the seed that had been growing inside me from watching without being able to play.”

Just as Bishop got his first chance to start when former Packer Nick Barnett was injured in 2010, others got an opportunity at inside linebacker last season. Green Bay’s “next man up” philosophy began with D.J. Smith, but he suffered a season-ending knee injury after six games. Then, converted outside linebacker Brad Jones stepped in and played so well that the Packers re-signed him this offseason to a three-year, $12 million contract. A.J. Hawk was a major part of that group as well, starting all 16 games while the inside linebacker next to him continued to change.

Jones’ emergence, Smith’s expected return to health next season and Hawk’s newly restructured contract creates more competition at the position, which Bishop believes will be a positive for the team’s defense.

“We have a good group, which is hats off to the guys upstairs, (general manager) Ted Thompson and those guys for bringing in good players,” Bishop said. “It’s fun. In order to be a good player, you have to have good players around you. It kind of makes you step your game up. That goes back to the urgency and not just being complacent and whatnot. I think at the end of the day, it’ll make the team as a whole better.”

Even with Bishop — and later Smith — out, Hawk wasn’t the every-snap player last season he was in recent years in defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ 3-4 defense. And, yes, Bishop is well aware of the criticism that often falls on Hawk.

“I don’t really agree with the critics (about Hawk),” Bishop said. “I think there’s a lot of stuff about football and sports in general that’s very valuable but doesn’t go down in the stat books. A.J. Hawk has a lot of that. One main one, for example, is his durability. The guy has been playing all those years and not missing many games.

“He might be criticized for not having flash plays, but he’s consistent. It goes back to what my high school coach said: ‘Would you rather have a guy who can run a 4.8 every time or a guy who runs a 4.4, then a 5.0 and is all over the place?’ A.J. kind of possesses that consistency and has it down pat. I think that’s very valuable.”

Hawk’s salary was reduced significantly this offseason, and, along with Jones now being paid starter-type money, there could be a shakeup coming at the “buck” inside linebacker position.

Whether it’s Hawk or Jones playing that spot, Bishop plans on reassuming his “mack” responsibilities on a full-time basis next season.

“I’ve got my strength back,” he said. “I’m ready.”

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