GREEN BAY – There is no missing Anthony Hargrove when he is on the practice field.
Even as he gets limited snaps because of his impending eight-game suspension to start the regular season for his involvement in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty scandal, the Green Bay Packers veteran defensive lineman is boisterous and energetic, and his personality is downright infectious. Whether he’s all-in-good-fun jawing with quarterback Aaron Rodgers, debating a questionable call with one of the volunteer officials working the sidelines or encouraging his fellow defensive linemen, his voice can be heard non-stop.
“If you’ve ever been to a road game, you know how difficult it is on the road. So to have that energy 24/7, to get the guys going again, I think that’s why it’s important to have, even at practice,” Hargrove explained Monday after missing the team’s previous two practices because of a personal matter he said was unrelated to the bounty case. “There’s days at practice when it feels like a road game, so you can get that feeling away from guys and know that they can push through stuff. It makes the season a whole lot easier.”
Of course, because of his impending suspension, Hargrove won’t be part of the team for the first half of the season, having been suspended by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on May 2 and having watched Goodell uphold his decision on July 3. While his former Saints teammate, linebacker Jonathan Vilma, has filed an injunction in Federal court in hopes of halting his season-long suspension, Hargrove, Saints defensive end Will Smith and Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita have not, perhaps because they’re waiting to see if Vilma is successful.
In the meantime, Hargrove is working under the assumption that his suspension will remain in place.
“As of right now, I’m sitting for eight weeks, sir. So I’ll see you in November. Like Wyclef said it best, ‘I’ll be gone ‘til November,’” Hargrove said with a laugh, referring to a popular Wyclef Jean song.
As a result, Packers coach Mike McCarthy has had his defensive assistants limit snaps for both Hargrove and fellow defensive end Mike Neal, who will sit out the first four games of the season after being suspended for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.
“I think you have to be honest and just prioritize it. Their situations are obvious that, four games and eight games that they will not be available,” McCarthy said. “It’s important that we continue to train them and make sure that they are ready, have an understanding of what we’re all about because everything we do in training camp we’ll use throughout the season. But the priority is really to get the other guys ready and individuals who have the opportunity to compete for the 53 and be ready Week 1.”
Hargrove has been rotating in with the No. 3 and 4 units on defense in practice seeing only an occasional snap or two with the No. 1 or 2 groups. Missing two practices – one for what McCarthy termed a “personal matter” and another after running into travel problems – certainly didn’t help, given the limited number of 11-on-11 reps Hargrove was already scheduled to get.
“It was exciting to be back out there,” Hargrove said. “I love practice, I love playing football, so it was just good to be back out there. I just wanted to keep the guys into it as much as I could.
“At this point, every rep is important. When I do get my reps, it’s going in there and making a play and really trying to get ready for the regular season. (McCarthy) is a great guy, this Green Bay organization hired some great coaches, and they do their job very well. If that’s what they feel is best for the team, I’m not going to fight anything they do.”
Asked how he manages to stay upbeat with the suspension looming over him, Hargrove pointed out that he’s overcome adversity before. He missed the entire 2008 season after violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy but revived his career the following ear with the Saints. He also referred to a quote from legendary Packers coach Vince Lombardi that McCarthy had referenced in his pre-training camp address to the team.
“Coach McCarthy showed a slide (from) one of the great speeches from Coach Lombardi, it said, ‘It’s not how many times you fall down. It’s how many times you get up,’” Hargrove said. “I’m no stranger to getting up when something knocks me down. All I’m going to do is keep on getting up.
“Outside looking in, I can understand the frustration. But I’ve been a part of this (bounty) thing for a while now, so I know what’s really going on – the truth. So I don’t let the little things worry me. I’m here to play football, and that’s all I worry about. I control things I can control.”
Then, Hargrove smiled.
“Everything else?” he said with a shrug. “It is what it is.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today,” and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.