GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Desmond Bishop got his starting job when the veteran in front of him went down with an injury. Now he is hoping he won't suffer the same fate.
The Green Bay Packers' linebacker missed all of last season with a ruptured hamstring tendon suffered in the Aug. 9 preseason opener. And after watching the team sign his replacement, Brad Jones, to a three-year, $11.75 million free-agent contract during the offseason, Bishop acknowledged that he's not assured of anything.
Pointing to the nearby lockers of quarterback Aaron Rodgers and linebacker Clay Matthews, Bishop said: "With the exception of A-Rod and maybe Clay, everybody is tradable."
For now, there's not much Bishop can do until he is cleared by the team's medical staff. When he is, he is certain he can reclaim what he believes is rightfully his.
"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 offseason practice. "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."
Veteran Nick Barnett broke his wrist four games into the 2010 season, was replaced by Bishop and was released by the following summer. After Barnett's injury, Bishop - after sitting the bench for three years behind Barnett and A.J. Hawk - 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.
Bishop then signed a four-year, $19 million extension in January 2011 and 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.
Then came the injury. He'll only turn 29 in July, but given the money the team paid Jones and the fact that Hawk got more than $2 million guaranteed for 2013 in exchange for taking a pay cut, Bishop's future with the team seems uncertain.
Coach Mike McCarthy certainly made no guarantees about Bishop's role when asked about the inside linebacker group Tuesday.
"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 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 this offseason. Bishop's initial backup last season, D.J. Smith, started six games last season before suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee Oct. 14. He was released just before the draft.
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."
Moss cautioned against giving up on Bishop.
"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."