Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson wasn’t interested in discussing the merits of his group of undrafted free agents.
“We’ve got more important things to talk about,” Thompson said on Wednesday.
Two members of that undrafted class are cornerbacks Makinton Dorleant and Josh Hawkins, and they’ve put themselves in position to challenge for a roster spot with the training camp clock winding down.
Their rise in the eyes of Thompson and the coaching staff was evident at Tuesday’s practice. Dorleant, who intercepted Aaron Rodgers earlier in the day, and Hawkins, who had an interception in Thursday’s preseason win vs. Oakland, lined up with the No. 1 kickoff team.
“I’ve put myself in a good position to open up some eyes,” Hawkins said.
So has Dorleant, who put together strong practices on Monday and Tuesday. That effort was highlighted by his interception of a pass from Rodgers to Jared Cook. Rodgers’ pass was behind Cook but Dorleant read the play all the way, jumped the route and made the catch. The play will score big points in cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt’s grading system. Making a play on, say, Joe Callahan while covering one of the down-the-depth-chart receivers is one thing.
Making a play on a pass from Rodgers to Cook, however, scores bonus points.
“I’m just out there trying to compete,” Dorleant said. “Being able to compete with the group we have on defense and be able to compete against Aaron, anybody in this locker room on defense who gets to compete against Aaron know that you don’t get too many opportunities if you’re not a starter. I was playing the defense and he happened to throw it and I happened to get my hands on it and that was that.”
Playmaking is part of Dorleant’s background. After two seasons at Maryland, Dorleant was a three-year starter at cornerback for FCS powerhouse Northern Iowa. He had one interception and 17 passes breakups as a senior, tying him for fourth in FCS with 18 passes defensed. He’s an impressive athlete with a 4.40 in the 40 and 39-inch vertical.
Hawkins was a playmaker, too. He walked on at East Carolina and intercepted five passes as a junior and two more as a senior. He nipped Dorleant in terms of pro-day numbers, with Hawkins running a 4.39 with a 40.5-inch vertical.
“I just came here with that confidence,” Hawkins said. “I came here with a clear mind, level head. I’m just going to play fast and physical and try to make as many splash plays as I possibly can to make the team and be a great asset for the team.”
The Packers are recovering from the war of attrition at cornerback. While they used their top two draft picks on Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins last year, that hardly offsets the free-agent defections of Tramon Williams, Davon House and Casey Hayward. Moreover, a pair of undrafted free agents who stuck around last year, LaDarius Gunter and Robertson Daniel, haven’t taken a noticeable step forward. Gunter, who played well when thrust into action in the playoff win at Washington, worked frequently with the No. 1 defense earlier in training camp but has fallen out of that rotation. Daniel hasn’t been bad but hasn’t done much to stand out, either.
“We have a bunch of young guys that haven’t proven themselves,” Whitt said last week. “I have one guy (Sam Shields) that has proven himself. Everybody else needs to come on. 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. That’s where I am right now. …
“There’s nobody outside of Sam that has separated themselves from the group. I hope somebody does here shortly, but it hasn’t happened right now. We have 10 bodies in the room. We need some more bodies to step up and get better.”
It’s possible Dorleant and Hawkins have thrust themselves into the conversation, either as a sixth cornerback behind Shields, Randall, Rollins, Gunter and Daniel or in challenging Gunter and Daniel for roster spots. Time is quickly running out for those decisions to be made, with just Friday’s game at San Francisco, practices on Monday and Tuesday, and next Thursday’s game at Kansas City remaining.
“Pressure? I don’t think so,” Dorleant said. “All the guys in this locker room back here have been working hard. Whenever you get an opportunity, take advantage of it. So, pressure? I don’t think there’s a lot of pressure. You’ve got to go out there and have fun, and everything will happen the way it’s supposed to happen. You go out and play the defense, you do what you have to do on defense. From there, that’s how the decisions are made.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.