By Jason Wilde Special to Published Nov 07, 2008 at 4:19 PM

GREEN BAY -- If Mike McCarthy were running a presidential campaign -- rather than the Packers -- some might accuse him of being a football socialist.

At the very least, the Packers coach is clearly spreading the wealth when it comes to playing time on his defense.

Which could create some issues.

As the Packers enter the second-half of their 16-game season with Sunday's showdown against Minnesota -- with whom they are tied for second in the NFC North at 4-4 -- they do so with four linebackers, three safeties and three cornerbacks worthy of starting - one more than necessary at each positions.

But McCarthy doesn't see it as a cause for concern.

"It's a great problem to have," McCarthy said last week. "You cannot have enough good football players. Those are great problems to have. The medical condition of your football team is probably talked about more than anything. I know I stand up here (and talk about) sprains and strains and fractures. It's important. Just to have them available is great."

It also could potentially create dissent, however, if any of the players whose jobs are affected by the team's newfound health were to allow it.

Pro Bowl cornerback Al Harris returned to action in Sunday's loss to undefeated Tennessee after missing four games with a lacerated spleen. Tramon Williams, who played well in his place (three interceptions), returned to the nickelback job.

Safety Atari Bigby, out since suffering a hamstring injury at Detroit Sept. 14, regained his starting job from Aaron Rouse, who had a 99-yard interception return for a touchdown Oct. 19 in Indianapolis - the Packers' final game before the bye week.

And starting linebacker A.J. Hawk, who suffered a groin injury at Tampa Bay Sept. 28 but played through the injury and hasn't missed a game, continues to start but is sharing snaps in the nickel defense with No. 4 linebacker Brandon Chillar. Chillar also rotated in for linebacker Brady Poppinga in the base defense against the Titans.

"It's good to have depth. The situation we've got right now, though, it's a tough one," linebackers coach Winston Moss admitted. "Guys want to be on the field as much as they can. And how we're going to set it up now is we're going to try to get them all in situations where they can best help the team. That's where we are right now. And until that changes in the future, we're going to take it a game at a time.

As for Hawk, "If he's a team player, then I think he'll understand. And I think that's what he's done so far," Moss said.

"I think he's done a good job of handling the situation as best he's had to. I haven't had any problems, I don't foresee any problems. But guys who want to contribute as much as possible, they're never going to be happy. And from my perspective, that's what you want. They have to be professional and deal with it."

For their parts, neither Chillar nor Hawk has complained about their roles. Chillar, who signed with the Packers as a free agent this offseason expecting to be the starting sam linebacker, failed to beat out Poppinga in camp and has spent most of the year as a backup.

"It's a chance for me to show the Green Bay public what I can do for them - and the coaches and the team. Hopefully it'll continue," Chillar said.

"It's like I said from the beginning, I've always taken the approach to do whatever they needed me to do. I realized this (not starting) could happen, but I figured I would have a chance to fight my way onto the field somehow. What they're doing, I have no idea. I just go in there and play. I wish I could explain it to you, but I can't even do it. I know as much as you."

With Chillar playing all the nickel snaps, Hawk played just three plays against the Colts. He has never been on the bench in his life -- not in Pop Warner, high school or Ohio State -- having always been an every-down player. The only time he'd come off the field with the Packers had been in the little-used dime defense, in which only one linebacker, Nick Barnett, is on the field.

"I'm not (upset). Not at all. But the coaches know I don't want to come off the field. They know that," Hawk said. "But regardless, it's kind of out of my hands now, and whenever I am in, I'm going to do my job. I don't know what we're doing."

Asked whether Hawk has taken a step back in coverage this season, or if Chillar simply fits the scheme better because of coverage is his strength, Moss replied, "They're exactly what they are. Chillar comes in here with excellent athleticism and a pass-coverage background, A.J. comes with a run-first toughness background, and they're exactly what they are. Can A.J. still cover the pass? Yes. Can Brandon still play the run and is he overall good in the scheme? Absolutely."

While shuttling players in-and-out of the game is commonplace on offense -- the Packers change personnel on virtually every play, and not even star players like wide receivers Greg Jennings and Donald Driver or halfback Ryan Grant play every down -- it's not as easy to do on defense. Still, McCarthy likes the idea of trying.

"Defense is always a little different, because on offense, everybody talks about it being a chess match but when the ball is snapped and the play is over, the offense is sending in their personnel group," McCarthy said.

"So the defense is reacting to what the offense is sending in, so their challenge (is) definitely (a matter of) sorting (out what the offense is doing). And (so) rotating is a little bit different defensively. Sometimes you may have certain reps that you want to give to certain guys and it may not balance out exactly the way you wanted week in and week out."


Jason Wilde Special to

Jason Wilde, a Milwaukee native who graduated from Greendale Martin Luther High School and the University of Wisconsin, is a two-time Associated Press Sports Editors award winner and a Wisconsin Newspaper Association award winner.

His daily coverage can be found on the State Journal's Web site and through his Packers blog on