CLEVELAND – It’s probably not going out on a limb to say that Browns fans are really going to like receiver Andrew Hawkins.
Quarterback Brian Hoyer already likes what he’s seen of Hawkins, comparing the 5-foot-7 receiver to former teammate Wes Welker. Rookie cornerback Justin Gilbert also is impressed, as is coach Mike Pettine.
What’s not to like about a slot receiver that can slither in and out of soft spots in zone coverage or turn nickel defenders into pretzels with quick, darting moves?
“I can see why,” said Gilbert of Hoyer’s Welker comparison. “He’s making plays every day. I’d rather guard (Josh) Gordon than him right now because he’s so little and quick. He’s hard to get a hand on.”
Landing Hawkins’ services wasn’t an easy offseason task for general manager Ray Farmer. As a restricted free agent with the Cincinnati Bengals, Hawkins could sign an offer sheet but have it matched by the Bengals.
That’s exactly what Bengals management said it would do after Hawkins signed a four-year, $13.6 million contract. After further evaluation of the impact the offer would have on their salary situation, the Bengals opted not to match, which meant Hawkins was headed 5 hours north.
Hawkins could be part of a committee approach to filling the possible loss of Gordon for the entire season because of a violation of the NFL’s drug policy. Also added to the corps of receivers was Nate Burleson, Earl Bennett and Miles Austin.
Farmer has tried to reduce some fan anxiety concerning Gordon by claiming an offense can still be successful without a true number one receiver. It’s a hard sell when the No. 1 receiver in question (Gordon) led the NFL in receiving yards last season with 1,646 in 14 games.
“In a football team, no matter what your job is, you go out there and do your job to the best of your ability,” Hawkins said. “That’s football. Guys get hurt all the time. You lose guys here and there. To us it doesn’t matter. We go in there and do what we’re told and let the pieces fall where they may.”
The plan last season was to secure the slot position with Davone Bess, who was signed away from the Miami Dolphins. That move turned into an embarrassing mistake. Bess became prone to bizarre behavior because of marijuana use and was waived during the offseason.
Hawkins, who had 86 receptions for 995 yards and four touchdowns in three seasons with the Bengals, comes to town with no off-the-field baggage. How he works into coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s offense in the regular season remains to be seen, but for now he shows up on the practice field.
The words of praise from teammates are a source of pride for Hawkins.
“I’m flattered,” Hawkins said. “When you come to a new team you want to impress the players around you. Those are the guys that see it first.
“I’m learning. It’s at the beginning stages. I still have a whole lot of work to do, but it’s definitely a compliment from those guys.”
Shanahan faces a tall order trying to fit together all the pieces. He has the Johnny Manziel-Hoyer competition to work out. He needs to decide whether running backs Ben Tate or Terrance West will get the majority of carries. Then there’s Gordon’s possible suspension, which hangs over the organization like a bad cold.
Hawkins believes Shanahan will make it all work.
“It’s the way an offense should be run,” Hawkins said. “They put guys in a position to do what’s best for the team. That takes pressure off the players. Some offensive coordinators say, ‘Make this play work.’ Kyle says, ‘We think this, and this will put you in the best position to make plays based off your abilities.’ “
In the case of Hawkins, that means giving cornerbacks like Gilbert fits.