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Confident First-Year Cornerback Is Ready To Step Up


Cornerback Mike Hawkins' cell phone displayed the image of his new baby boy, and he asked all passers-by to check it out.

Hawkins went on to boast not only about Michael Jr., born on Saturday, but also his skills as an NFL corner.

A first year player, he already possesses the necessary confidence to take on Detroit Lions wide receiver Roy Williams, Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens and Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward -- to name a few exemplary receivers looming on the Green Bay Packers' schedule.

"You've got to be sort of cocky out there. You've also got to have a short memory, too," safety Mark Roman said. "We're at a position where when you have a good game, it's really not glorified too much. If you have a bad game, everybody in the nation is going to know about it."

Having waived nickel cornerback Joey Thomas on Wednesday, the Packers are counting on Hawkins to use last week's game as a launching pad. He played 25 snaps (according to the coaching staff's estimates), filled in at right cornerback when Al Harris went down with cramps in the third quarter and recorded two tackles on Sunday.

"Hawkins came in and did a good job," Head Coach Mike Sherman said.

The Packers coaching staff noticed Hawkins' potential during training camp. A fifth-round pick and no-lock to make the team, he displayed top-flight speed (he ran a 4.28-second 40-yard dash in pre-draft workouts) and ballhawking abilities. He even covered Pro Bowl wide receiver Javon Walker effectively at times.

Despite his physical skills, Hawkins, one of the most highly recruited high school athletes in the country out of high school, remains a raw player. He played at the University of Oklahoma in 2002 for one year. He spent 2004 and 2005 with the Dallas Desperados in the Arena League.

"He can get the job done," Roman said. "He has a lot of potential to be a good corner in this league. He just has to learn the little nuances of playing the corner position and playing in the NFL."

During his year out of football in 2003, he worked at a Dallas-area Wendy's and briefly at a Nissan dealership. Hawkins said that layoff did not hinder his adjustment to playing in the AFL.

"It doesn't affect anything," Hawkins said, "because I'm talented."

Hawkins, however, admits he had to adjust to the NFL in two areas. After playing only five games with Oklahoma and seven during a two-year span with the Desperados, he was not used to the daily grind of training camp practices, regular season practices and gamedays.

His body has begun to adapt.

"My body's more in a regiment of recovering way faster than I was," he said.

Hawkins also had to learn how to play on special teams. The Packers typically use their backup defensive backs extensively on those units. Hawkins' unfamiliarity with coverage and return units caused the coaching staff to place him on the inactive list for Week One.

"It was new to me," he said. "I had never played gunner before. I had never played on the punt return team, covering somebody."

Hawkins has focused on understanding the fundamentals of special teams since Week 1. The Packers have activated him for every game but the season opener, and Hawkins prides himself on his work in that area. He now is tied for third on the team in special teams tackles with six.

"I've been doing good on special teams," he said. "That's my job -- special teams. And if I get to play corner, I play corner. If not, I'll do my best on special teams."

With Thomas gone, the Packers will need Hawkins to play his best on defense, and the rookie welcomes that opportunity with open arms.

"I've grown tremendously since training camp started," he said. "I'm ready for more."

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