GREEN BAY - If cornerback Josh Hawkins makes the Green Bay Packers' 53-man roster for the second consecutive season, he might look back on Aug. 4 as a big reason why.
That afternoon, the 5-10½ Hawkins explained to a reporter his strategy for taking on bigger, taller receivers: He presses them hard at the line of scrimmage and shoots his hands directly into their chest, disrupting the route before it begins.
Several hours later, Hawkins applied that technique against 6-5½ Michael Clark, a former Division I basketball player. They were paired together for a rep of one-on-ones, and Hawkins jammed Clark hard enough to stop the receiver dead in his tracks, ending the play instantly.
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It was the kind of moment that made veteran Davon House heap praise upon Hawkins last week, even if his words were a slight exaggeration. Said House: “Josh Hawkins, who’s quietly been making the most plays out of all of us, I think he’ll one day be a starter in this league.”
Cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt Jr. suggested that House’s tally might be a bit off — Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins have been around the ball more often. But Whitt agreed that Hawkins, who made last year’s team as an undrafted free agent, is steadying himself after a fairly quiet start to camp. He appears to be battling LaDarius Gunter and undrafted rookie Donatello Brown for a spot on the 2017 roster.
“Josh is getting better,” Whitt said. “What he’s not doing is he’s not giving up plays. That’s what we have to have. We gave up way too many explosive passes, especially on the outside, I think we’ve done a good job in camp of holding vertical control when we’re in team-type periods.”
Hawkins said he approached this year’s camp with a different mindset than 2016, when the former walk-on at East Carolina used his 4.39-second speed and 40½-inch vertical leap to show up repeatedly during practice.
Now, Hawkins is trying to harness his inner Sam Shields.
“He goes man-to-man every play, and I love that about him,” Hawkins said. “I just want to be one of those shutdown corners eventually, once I gain coach Whitt’s trust and coach (Dom Capers’) trust. I mean, a lot of coaches say I’ve matured this year and they can definitely see it and hear it in all aspects.”
Hawkins hopes the maturity carries over to special teams, which he acknowledges will be crucial to any role he might have this season. Hawkins and wide receiver Jeff Janis have been working as the No. 1 gunners for special teams coordinator Ron Zook. He also has appeared on the first team punt-return unit — perhaps in place of the injured House — and on first-team punt block at times during camp.
“All around, I’ve just been trying to play like the No. 1 corner, the No. 1 gunner, the No. 1 that holds up the gunners,” Hawkins said. “I’m just trying to be a special part of this secondary and this defense and this special teams.
“Ever since we started from OTAs to minicamp I’ve been trying to just let everything carry over and fix. If I have mistakes I try to fix the mistakes and make it better. Every day you either get worse or you get better. I’ve just been trying to get better every day.”