A.J. Hawk is easily integrating with the Bengals since joining the team as a free agent on March 10, 2015. When the Bengals signed Hawk, who is Green Bay's all-time tackler with 1,118 stops in nine seasons, they acquired a veteran who Marvin Lewis said at the time of signing has, "been productive for a long time at the highest level" and more than capable of playing "all three of our linebacker positions."
Hawk returned home.
"I figured once the (Packers) were done with me, it would be kind of a dream to come back here," Hawk said after officially signing his two-year contract Wednesday. "Now it's a reality. It was 100 percent my first choice." Hawk, born in Kettering, played ball at Centerville High School and the Ohio State University (with Mike Nugent) before being selected fifth overall in the 2006 NFL draft.
Cincinnati opened OTA practices on Tuesday -- their third and final phase of the offseason training program. Hawk integrated himself as a veteran looking like he's played in Paul Guenther's defense for years.
"He’s real smart. Veteran guy, played in a lot of different defenses," Guenther said via Bengals.com. "So he’s picked up our defense really good. He’s playing all the spots. For a guy like that with his experience, it’s good to have a guy who’s been through it a lot to be through those things.
"It was good to be out there with him, just from communication," Vincent Rey, who worked with the first team at middle linebacker, said on Tuesday. "He was talking all the time pre-snap. It was good because I felt comfortable. I’m saying, ‘This guy knows what the heck is going on.’ It was cool to hear. Little stuff like, ‘Vinny, watch for this.’ It’s good because you’re more relaxed in your stance. Tez, Rey, they're such good communicators. That’s what makes them good. He’s just like them."
The issue of uncertainty at linebacker for Cincinnati caused them to address the position during the offseason. Vontaze Burfict's rehabilitation timeline could end anywhere from the first day of training camp to spending the first six weeks on the team's Physically Unable to Perform list. In addition to signing Hawk, the Bengals used a third-round pick to draft TCU linebacker Paul Dawson.
"I feel very comfortable. I’ve said it before; it’s a great locker room. Guys are really competitive, really encouraging. A lot of camaraderie here," Hawk said. "I noticed that from day one. I felt comfortable since I got here. Obviously I’m coming in as the old guy, which I happily welcome. I like that. I don’t want to be the 22-year-old anymore. I don’t claim to be the smart, wise old vet coming in here. I’m asking these guys questions just like a rookie. I’m learning the defense like these rookies are learning it. It’s my first time seeing it, too, when I looked at it a month ago. It feels good, honestly. It’s been fun. Going into my 10th year and learning a new scheme is different, sure, but I welcome the challenge. It’s been good."
And there it is not just the defense that seems familiar.
"It’s something my wife jokes about. I’m from Ohio so I have a connection here with the people in Ohio," Hawk said. "I like how people go about their way, how they work here. I think everyone is always looking for some kind of motivation. I’ve always been a guy who has motivated myself. I love the game. I love playing football but there’s a big difference. Everything is different. Not just the scheme but the schedule, how we run things, how practice is structured. It’s fun to see there are multiple different ways to run a team and do things. I love the guys at Green Bay. They do things first class and I’ve seen nothing but the same here."