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'Family' Ties Appeal To Hawthorne


Only hours after signing a multi-year deal to remain with the Packers, defensive back Michael Hawthorne was at his home in Green Bay trying to take an afternoon nap.

The fifth-year NFL veteran wasn't exhausted from career deliberations -- because in Hawthorne's mind there was little question about where he wanted to end up -- but from a yoga and Pilates class he'd taken earlier in the day with teammates at Lambeau Field.

"Man, that was intense," Hawthorne said with a laugh. "I didn't know yoga and Pilates could be such a workout. I was surprised."

And not for the first time. In fact, since joining the Packers two weeks into the 2003 season, Hawthorne has repeatedly been taken aback by his experience in Green Bay.

Originally acquired by the New Orleans Saints in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft, it's for all the reasons that his Packers experience has been different from his first three seasons with the Saints that Hawthorne was so determined to stay in Titletown.

"It's just such a family atmosphere here," said Hawthorne, who made two starts among 14 games with the Packers last season.

"When you come from a place that doesn't have that kind of a feeling to a place that does, you tend to put a special value on it. I knew I could have looked around and tried to go to another team this offseason, but I wouldn't have known what I was getting into.

"Here with the Packers I know I'm part of a family, and this family has unfinished business from last year, and I want to be part of making sure we finish our business next season."

As much as Hawthorne's outlook for 2004 is motivated by 2003, the coming year is more about starting fresh than carrying over.

Signed by the Packers -- after being cut by the Saints -- prior to their Week 3 contest with the Arizona Cardinals, Hawthorne's first season in Green Bay was saddled with the burden of playing catch-up.

This time around, Hawthorne feels comfortable in the Packers' defensive system, which will be led by former defensive backs coach Bob Slowik. And even though the Packers return starters at every position, and earlier this week added Mark Roman to potentially take over the starting safety spot opposite Darren Sharper, Hawthorne knows he provides another viable option at both cornerback and safety.

"I want to play wherever I can help the team and get on the field," Hawthorne said. "Last year I was still learning, but this year when I come into training camp it will be a level playing field and I can really get the chance to show what I can do.

"The more you play together as a unit, the more you understand your own role and your teammates' roles. This year I know what I need to do, and I'm eager to get out there and make plays."

Even in his first year with the club, Hawthorne made his presence felt, going from two special teams tackles in his debut to a role as the Packers' top reserve in the secondary, finishing the season with 23 tackles, two interceptions and a sack.

For that speedy acclimation, Hawthorne credits his teammates, who he said welcomed him with open arms, but also Slowik, who was promoted to defensive coordinator in January.

"It means a lot to me to know that Coach Slowik is still going to be around," Hawthorne said. "Between him and Coach (Mike) Sherman, there's a solid foundation here.

"Those are the people that wanted me in Green Bay and believed in me. Now I'm just trying to prove that I'm their diamond in the rough."

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