You could just hear everybody back in Philly yelling at their TV: “Who the HELL is No. 48?”
The Eagles had already gone through eight cornerbacks last year when Rasul Douglas hurt his ankle in the second quarter of the Saints playoff game.
Josh Hawkins was the ninth one in. And it’s hard to imagine a more challenging situation for a young player.
Hawkins had just signed to the 53-man roster two weeks earlier after a week on the practice squad and had never played a snap of defense in an Eagles uniform.
Now he’s on national TV covering Michael Thomas with a berth in the NFC Championship Game at stake.
It did not go well.
To me, it was embarrassing,” Hawkins says now. “I hold myself to a high standard. I’m a very competitive person, and I didn’t like that feeling and I never want to feel that feeling again.
The Eagles were Hawkins’ fourth team 4 ½ months. He spent training camp with the Packers then had stints on the Chiefs’ and Panthers’ practice squads before joining the Eagles just one month before that Saints game.
And with Chandon Sullivan and DeVante Bausby released and Jalen Mills, Ronald Darby and Sidney Jones hurt, Hawkins went into that Saints game as the fourth corner, behind Douglas, Cre’Von LeBlanc and Avonte Maddox.
When Douglas went down, Hawkins went in.
Drew Brees is one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, and when he sees a new number out there he’s going to go after him. And he did.
Incredibly, Hawkins that afternoon became the first No. 48 to play defense for the Eagles in 25 years, since Wes Hopkins’ final season, in 1993.
I had a couple weeks to learn the defense, then some guys went down and all of a sudden I was out there,” he said. “You can’t feel sorry for yourself, you don’t have time for that. It’s next man up so I just had to play like I had been out there with them boys all year. … Nobody is going to feel sorry for you when someone catches a ball on you or someone catches a touchdown on you. You just have to forget about it.
Do the math and Hawkins had a total of 17 practices with the Eagles, most of them running scout team, which means he wasn’t even working on the Eagles’ defense. He was only going to play in the event of an emergency.
So while he tried to forget everything he learned in Green Bay, Carolina and Kansas City, he tried to learn as much as he could as fast as he could.
“You just try to catch a quick bond with the guys,” he said. “Extra time on the field when you can, pay attention in meetings, extra time before meetings, after meetings, just learning it real quick.”
After the Saints game, Hawkins sat in his locker in the visiting locker room at the Super Dome for quite a while before finally showering.
It was a nightmare.
But here’s the thing.
Hawkins is still here. Sullivan and Bausby are not.
The Eagles clearly saw something they liked in Hawkins. Maybe it was the way he just kept battling under impossible odds. Maybe it was the way he handled adversity.
And with Darby and Mills still recovering from their injuries, he’s been getting second-team reps at corner during OTAs.
I dealt with it by going straight back to work,” he said. “I feel like I’m in a better place. My spirit is better. I feel like my technique is better. My energy is better. That was my first time going through the whole bounce-around-the-league period, and I didn’t want to have that feeling again. I really didn’t have much of an offseason. I went straight to Orlando and went straight back to training. Lifting, boxing, conditioning. April hit, went to the field and got it in real hard. And you can tell. My trainer was saying, ‘Something different about you now. You mean business this year,’ and right now I’m showing it.
Realistically, it’s going to be tough for Hawkins to stick. Mills and Darby will be back at some point, Douglas, Jones and Maddox don’t appear to be going anywhere, and LeBlanc is still in the mix.
But Hawkins isn’t worried about any of that. He’s just worried about himself right now and making sure what happened in New Orleans back on Jan. 13 never happens again.
You’re going to be hearing about No. 48,” he said. “You’re going to be hearing a lot about me. I’m ready for that moment. That moment where I’m not the guy subbing in when someone gets hurt, I’m the guy that’s starting. And I ain’t playing with it.
Hawkins found himself in the most challenging situation imaginable and came out of it stronger, tougher, more confident than ever.
It’s impossible not to root for this kid.
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