A diamond in the rough?

If first impressions mean anything in the National Football League, then the Green Bay Packers were very pleased with what they saw from cornerback Mike Hawkins in the recent post-draft mini-camp.

Hawkins was selected in the fifth round of the recent NFL draft by the Green Bay Packers. Many draft experts felt the Packers took Hawkins well ahead of where he should have been selected because of the cornerback's inexperience. Hawkins only played in five games for the University of Oklahoma as a freshman before he was dismissed from the team for disciplinary reasons. In the spring of 2004 he played in the Arena Football League for Dallas but wasn't a starter.

Still, Hawkins' athletic ability, potential and the off-field experiences that helped him mature over the past two years was too much for the Packers to ignore on draft day. So, Ted Thompson, on the advice of scout Alonzo Highsmith, gambled on Hawkins.

The reviews on Hawkins have been thumbs up not only from coaches, but also many in the media who questioned Green Bay's decision to draft Hawkins.

The lean cornerback displayed his lightning-quick speed in front of coaches and players, and even made a few interceptions during scrimmages. Coach Mike Sherman felt Hawkins "had soft hands" catching the ball in practice drills. His interceptions in scrimmage were highlighted by local television stations on the news and in Green Bay-area newspapers and on various Packers Internet sites.

"He has rare speed," said defensive coordinator Jim Bates. "Anybody's grandmother could come out here and see that that guy can run."

Hawkins said he finished with a time of 4.28 seconds in the 40-yard dash on FieldTurf during a tryout in front of scouts a few weeks before the draft. That makes him perhaps the fastest player on the Packers roster. Cornerback Chris Johnson, selected by Green Bay in the seventh round of the 2003 NFL draft, is just as fast, but he has been hobbled by knee and leg injuries and has yet to play in a regular season game.

With limited experience in the college and pro ranks, it will be up to Packers coaches to get Hawkins up speed with technique and help him adapt to Bates' defensive scheme.

"We saw his ability," said secondary coach Joe Baker. "You can see that out here on the field. The kid is cat-quick. He can really run. He's got good hands and obviously a knack for making plays on the ball. He looks like a rookie, but he looks like a rookie who can make plays."

Hawkins worked at right and left cornerback during the post-draft minicamp. He likely will do the same during "opportunity" practices next week and during the June 1-9 minicamp in Green Bay. In the post-draft camp, Hawkins practiced with the first-team defense during a few of the practices because starters Ahmad Carroll and Al Harris were excused. Johnson did not participate in the post-draft camp because of a stress fracture in his leg.

Hawkins is making the most of his reps, and making adjustments on the run, so to say. "One thing I've got to do is slow down," he said. "The Arena League is so fast, that I've got to slow down now because things happen a little bit slower now. I've got to slow down."

Hawkins showed flashes of brilliance in five games as a true freshman at Oklahoma including a 45-yard interception return for a touchdown. He said, though, that he could not deal with the "tough" coaching because of what he had been through in his life. It created an air of negativity for him and reminded him of the mental abuse he had gone through as a youngster. He also said he was fighting with his mother at the time and was about to deal with having a child. All those issues combined were not easily curable with God-given football ability.

Hawkins moved back to the Dallas area where he worked out and kept in shape. He worked at a Wendy's restaurant and a car dealership to make a living.

"Any job that I had working, bringing in money, was good money to me because I never really had any money…," he said. "It taught me that hard work is hard work."

Hawkins said a friend convinced him to pay $45 for an open tryout for the Desperados late in 2003, and that's where he got his football career back on track. He signed with Dallas on Dec. 30, 2003, but played just five games the following spring season, hampered by injuries. Not even a starter for Dallas, Hawkins entered the NFL Draft this year with a thin resume of playing experience at all levels.

"If I would have stayed at Oklahoma, I would have been a first-round pick, but that's the past, you know?" Hawkins said. "I've just got the momentum and the motivation to show people that once I get in this league, give me like a year to learn all the schemes and everything, and then I'll blossom into a player that I know I can be. I can be one of the great corners to ever play this game. I've just got to keep working hard and stay positive."

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