GREEN BAY – Desmond Bishop doesn’t believe that he was ever on the trading block, and he doesn’t buy that he’s lost his starting job, either.
Regardless of the three-year, $11.75 million contract the Green Bay Packers gave his replacement, Brad Jones, the veteran inside linebacker is certain that once he’s cleared for action, he’ll reclaim what’s rightfully his – even though he’s seen firsthand that a starter can lose his spot due to injury and never get it back.
After all, that’s exactly how Bishop got the job: Veteran Nick Barnett broke his wrist four games into the 2010 season, was replaced by Bishop and was released by the following summer. But if Bishop is worried about meeting the same fate as Barnett, he’s not showing it.
“I mean, yeah, somebody’s got to fill in right now. It’s not like my job to say who plays and who doesn’t,” Bishop said after watching Tuesday’s organized team activity practice – the second open workout of the offseason – from the sideline of the Don Hutson Center. “All I can do is get healthy to (get back to) my full potential and get back out there.
“Of course, every person should feel like they should play. If you didn’t have that mindset, you wouldn’t be here. It is what it is.”
After Barnett’s injury, Bishop – after sitting the bench for three years behind him – took over and in 12 starts recorded 103 tackles and three sacks, forced two fumbles, broke up eight passes and had a 32-yard interception return for a touchdown against Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings.
He signed a four-year, $19 million extension in January 2011, then was arguably the team’s best defensive player the next season, registering 115 tackles and five sacks along with forcing two more fumbles in 13 games.
But he ruptured the hamstring tendon – the tendon that connects the hamstring muscle to the knee – in his right leg in the Aug. 9 preseason opener at San Diego last summer and missed the entire season. He’ll only turn 29 in July, but given the money the team paid Jones and the fact that A.J. Hawk got more than $2 million guaranteed for 2013 in exchange for taking a pay cut, Bishop’s future with the team seems uncertain. An NFL Network report during last month’s NFL Draft that said the Packers were shopping Bishop didn’t help.
Bishop said Tuesday that no one from the Packers has told him that he was on the trading block, so he’s chalked the report up to being “a rumor.” But, pointing to the nearby lockers of quarterback Aaron Rodgers and outside linebacker Clay Matthews, Bishop added, “But with the exception of A-Rod and maybe Clay, everybody is tradable.”
Packers coach Mike McCarthy certainly made no guarantees about Bishop’s role when asked about the inside linebacker group after Tuesday’s OTA practice.
“I felt probably that 2010 (inside) linebacker group was the deepest group that I’ve ever been around as a head coach, and this year’s group definitely has a chance to champion that,” McCarthy said. “You never have enough good football players. Desmond’s situation is medical. Until he’s cleared there, you know how that goes. Sometimes it takes a little longer than everybody would like it to, but it’s clearly a very, very competitive group.”
Bishop had said last week that he was aiming to be cleared in time for Tuesday’s practice. That didn’t happen, even though Bishop said the tendon is “100 percent” healed and that he is “really close” to returning.
“I’m ready, I feel good, but it’s better to be on the cautious side than strain it again and be down another five weeks,” Bishop said. “So we’re just being cautious.”
With Bishop sidelined, Jones and Hawk have run with the first-string defense at inside linebacker at each of the two open-to-the-media OTA practices this offseason. Bishop’s initial backup last season, D.J. Smith, was released just before the draft even though he started six games last season in Bishop’s place before suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee at Houston Oct. 14.
With Bishop and Smith out, Jones showed that the coaches’ decision to move him inside from the outside linebackers spot was a good one, registering 102 tackles, two sacks and six pass break-ups in 10 regular-season starts.
Asked directly how Bishop can reclaim his starting job from Jones, inside linebackers coach Winston Moss didn’t have an answer.
“Well, I think that’s a tough question to ask right now. I just think until he gets back, until he’s cleared, we just have to wait and see,” Moss said. “The one thing I would hate to do would be to get into speculation as to if and when he’s cleared. This is where it is right now, and once he’s ready to go and he has that opportunity to compete in our room, then we’ll cross that bridge.
“But right now, it’s one of those things where the guys who are in that room, I’ve got to have a full commitment to those guys and trust the process to where when Bishop is focusing on with the trainers and getting his situation right, I’ll let that process take care of itself. But he’s been working hard and so the expectation is at some point in time, he’s going to be ready to go – hopefully.”
It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Packers are taking their time with Bishop to keep him around as insurance during the offseason but may release him before training camp. In 2011, the Packers released Barnett – along with right tackle Mark Tauscher, linebacker Brady Poppinga, defensive lineman Justin Harrell and linebacker Brandon Chillar – on the eve of training camp after the lockout ended.
But despite his lukewarm endorsement, Moss cautioned against giving up on Bishop. Moss was his position coach while Bishop impatiently waited behind Barnett from 2007 through 2009, and he knows what Bishop can do when motivated.
“This is a guy who is on a mission. He’s very, very competitive, and he has this inner strength to where he feeds off the adversity that he’s going through,” Moss said. “Because he felt that when he first got here – he (felt he) should have been playing. So he’s used that as a chip, and he’s been using that to really excel and grow over the past years.
“But in getting hurt last year, that really set him back. From an attitude standpoint, from a mindset standpoint, he’s a guy that you don’t really want to get in his way once he gets back. Because he looks like he’s definitely dialed in to where when he gets back, he’s definitely going to be ready to go.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.