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Hawk returns to practice for Packers, while Grant sits

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Packers running back Ryan Grant and defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila missed practice Friday as a precaution before Monday night's opener with Minnesota.

Height: 6-1

Weight: 226

College: Notre Dame

G/GS: 15/7

Grant has been dealing with an ailing hamstring, while Gbaja-Biamila has been recovering from right knee surgery. Both players fully participated in practice on Thursday.

Green Bay is trying to make sure it's healthy for the season opener that begins the Aaron Rodgers era. Linebacker A.J. Hawk is making progress toward playing for the first time since he suffered a strained muscle in his chest in the Aug. 11 preseason opener.

Hawk has been wearing a protective harness and returned to practice Thursday on a limited basis. He went through the full practice Friday and says he's optimistic he'll be ready Monday.

Hawk -- who was not present in the Packers' locker room when it was open to media Thursday -- hasn't missed a start since joining the team as a first-round draft pick in 2006. He also was extraordinarily healthy at Ohio State, starting 37 straight games to end his collegiate career.

So McCarthy wasn't surprised when Hawk was ready to come back before the team's medical staff was ready to let him do so.

"We knew that A.J. was going to rehab at a rapid pace, and in his mind he feels he has been ready for quite some time," McCarthy said. "So it is a combination of the individual and it is a combination of the doctor's report."

Hawk has proved to be a solid and consistent player over two seasons in Green Bay, but he has drawn some criticism for not making enough big plays.

Packers linebackers coach Winston Moss acknowledges that Hawk made more big plays as a rookie than he did last season. But Moss said that has more to do with what the Packers asked Hawk to do.

"I think the first year, he was more impactful," said Moss, who also is the Packers' assistant head coach. "I think the second year, he did a real good job just settling down in the scheme and was executing fairly well. (But) he didn't get a lot of opportunities. You didn't see him drop a lot of balls, you didn't see him miss too many tackles. Everybody misses tackles. But the bottom line was, I thought he was very efficient from a standpoint of, what he was asked to do, I thought he did it very well."

Packers defensive coordinator Bob Sanders said Hawk's playmaking ability might be underrated because his contributions to the defense often are subtle.

"A lot of times, A.J.'s guy doesn't catch the ball," Sanders said. "He blows up a lead blocker so someone else can make a tackle. A.J. is a very, very good role player and he makes a lot of impact plays for us. Even on those rushes sometimes, where we may get a sack, he may be blowing someone out so all of a sudden, Aaron Kampman makes a sack."

Still, Moss expects Hawk to approach this season as if he has something to prove.

"A guy of his kind of ability and talent, we're going to expect big things from him," Moss said. "And I think he expects that of himself. So when it's all said and done, we're going to try to get him in some positions to make some plays. Whenever he gets back healthy again, I'm still excited about A.J., I always have been."

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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