GREEN BAY - The measurables of Sam Shields and Josh Hawkins are so similar you have to wonder whether the Green Bay Packers thought they were getting a clone of their shutdown corner when they signed the East Carolina product as an undrafted free agent.
Shields, signed out of Miami after the draft in 2010, measured in at 5-10¾ and 184 pounds with 31¼-inch arms and 10⅛-inch hands. Hawkins, signed on April 30, measured 5-10½ and 189 pounds with 32¼-inch arms and 8-inch hands.
Their pro day numbers couldn’t be much closer:
» 40-yard time: Shields, 4.3 seconds; Hawkins, 4.39
» 20-yard time: Shields, 2.48; Hawkins, 2.52
» 10-yard time: Shields, 1.56, Hawkins, 1.51
» Bench press: Shields 15 reps; Hawkins, 14
» Vertical jump: Shields, 39 inches; Hawkins, 40½
» Broad jump: Shields, 11 feet, 1 inch; Hawkins; 10 feet, 5 inches
» Shuttle: Shields, 4.19 seconds; Hawkins, 4.09
» 3-cone drill: Shields, 6.79 seconds; Hawkins, 7.22
The Packers’ chances of finding a gold nugget like Shields again are crazy bad, but through a month of training camp it’s looking like the $3,500 signing bonus used to lure Hawkins was well worth it.
Though the Packers are loaded with young talent at cornerback, they can’t ignore Hawkins’ rare speed, long arms and history of fighting for everything he’s gotten, from walking on at East Carolina to working from the bottom of the depth chart in Green Bay. His physical attributes and the pretty interception he had against the Oakland Raiders Friday night have put him in the thick of the 53-man roster competition.
“Things have been falling into place,” Hawkins said. “It’s competition, so I’m just trying to be consistent, be a good asset to this team. Do my part, do good on special teams and try to make this team.”
Part of Hawkins’ plan to make the team has been to study Shields’ every move on the field, figuring not only can he learn how to play the position, he can learn to play it the way someone with 4.3 speed and a 40-inch vertical jump plays it.
Against the Raiders, Hawkins showed no fear in playing press coverage, something Shields loves to do. On third and 9, he destroyed the timing of a route between quarterback Connor Cook and veteran receiver Andre Holmes by dropping a few steps off the line and then surprising Holmes with a strong two-arm jam.
Cook threw the out to Holmes right at the sticks where he expected his receiver to be, but Holmes was out of the play.
Late in the game, Hawkins bumped rookie receiver Marvin Hall and then sunk back into his coverage. Cook lost track of him and tried to hit Hall up the sideline, but Hawkins tipped the ball to himself, got a nice block from teammate Jermaine Whitehead and returned the interception 47 yards.
“We were just in Cover 2, I pressed the man, tried to re-route him and I just turned around quick because I knew their quarterback was trying to get rid of the ball real fast,” Hawkins said after the game. “I got my hands on it and it was off to the races.”
Hawkins is well aware of Shields’ story, coming in as an undrafted free agent, wowing the coaches with his speed and special teams ability and then soaking up all the knowledge he could from Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams. He can’t match Shields’ hand size, so he may not be as good around the ball as the veteran.
But he had nine interceptions and 22 pass breakups in 50 games at East Carolina and was a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award as a junior. His senior season wasn’t as good and probably played a role in him having to follow Shields’ route to the NFL.
“I’m just learning behind Sam,” Hawkins said. “Everything he does, I try to mimic. He’s a great teacher. I actually had ‘37’ my freshman year in college. It’s kind of crazy. It is crazy.
“It’s a blessing to have him. I look up to him. He talks to me. In the film room, he’ll say, ‘Do this with your feet, be more patient, do this with your hands.’ He sits right behind me so I just listen to everything he says.”
Hawkins wasn’t without some blips in his second NFL game, but his weekly improvement has put him smack in the middle of the cornerback race. Last year, the Packers kept seven cornerbacks, and right now Hawkins is running fifth or sixth, depending on whether you count Micah Hyde as a safety or corner.
“We have depth of young guys, but we have to prove that we can play winning football in this league when we’re going against the winning teams,” cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said last week. “That’s where I am right now. We just have to get better.”
The impending four-game suspension for Demetri Goodson, who has not played well in the exhibition games, might allow for the Packers to keep both Robertson Daniel and Hawkins. Daniel has a big advantage because he has been a core special teams player this summer while Hawkins is new to it all.
But Hawkins nearly blocked a field goal rushing off the edge Friday night, and he frustrated punt team gunner Andre Hamilton so much on his way down the field that Hamilton pushed Hawkins in the back, drawing a 10-yard penalty.
"It's new for me, but I'm just listening and learning and trying to do anything I can to help this team," Hawkins said.