Josh Hawkins

How Eagles cornerback Josh Hawkins grew from playoff embarrassment

How Eagles cornerback Josh Hawkins grew from playoff embarrassment

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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NFL free agency 2019: A comprehensive look at Eagles' cornerbacks

NFL free agency 2019: A comprehensive look at Eagles' cornerbacks

Reuben Frank, Dave Zangaro and Andrew Kulp continue the 2019 edition of Stay or Go, trying to figure out the future of the Eagles. 

Today, we’ll look at cornerbacks. 

Jalen Mills

Roob: Mills is in the unusual spot of having to fight for a job a year after being a starter on a Super Bowl team. There are several reasonable scenarios where Mills won’t get his starting job back. Even if Maddox moves to safety, it’s possible to imagine Jones and Douglas outside and LeBlanc in the slot. But Mills is a tough, physical, experienced corner on a rookie seventh-round contract (cheap). At worst he’ll be a backup.

Verdict: Stays

Dave: That foot injury happened before the bye week and it apparently kept getting worse. As much as fans ripped Mills earlier in the season, he’s a Jim Schwartz favorite. It’s amazing to think he’s entering the fourth year of his rookie contract in 2019. As a seventh-round pick, he’s still making peanuts. Even if he loses his starting job, which I don’t see, he’s back. 

Verdict: Stays 

Kulp: Fans love to get on Mills’ case, but if you look around the league, he really isn’t bad. The Eagles have certainly shown a bunch of confidence in the guy. Now, I think Mills’ starting job is up for grabs after an injury-shortened season opened the door to competition, and if he’s the odd man out, an August trade might make sense with free agency looming. Until then at least, he’ll be in the mix.

Verdict: Stays

Ronald Darby

Roob: There’s no denying Darby’s skill. He’s only 25 and is going to have a fine career. But he’s also played only 17 games the last two years, and I don’t see the Eagles getting into a bidding war over an oft-injured free agent corner when they have an abundance of talented corners under contract. If Darby’s price keeps falling, go for it. Otherwise, I don’t see it happening.

Verdict: Goes

Dave: Darby is one of the injured Eagles coming off an injury who it would make sense to re-sign. So if he doesn’t get a deal elsewhere and wants to come back, by all means if it’s cheap enough. But will the other young corners on the roster and with the chance the Eagles add a draft pick, I’m not confident he’ll be back. 

Verdict: Goes

Kulp: I never got the sense Darby’s departure was automatic. Yet, similar to Mills, his injury created opportunities for others to shine. The difference? Darby is a free agent. The Eagles no longer appear to need him, especially coming off of a torn ACL. Only 25 with a pretty good body of work, he should fetch some decent coin on a prove-it deal somewhere else.

Verdict: Goes

Sidney Jones

Roob: I still don’t know what the Eagles have in Jones, who we just haven’t seen healthy enough for long enough to get an idea what kind of player he is. My thing about Sidney is he’s 22 years old, he was considered a first-round prospect this time two years ago and it’s way too early to dismiss him. He’s going to be one of the most scrutinized guys in camp next summer. Excited to see what he can do.

Verdict: Stays

Dave: I wrote about it during the season, but it still holds true. Anyone who is calling Jones a bust seriously needs to pump the brakes. He was a second-round pick for a reason and missed his rookie season with that Achilles tear. Then he had a hamstring injury. He’s been hurt for what was really his rookie season. And I thought he actually played well in the nickel spot early in the year. Give the kid a chance. 

Verdict: Stays

Kulp: People need to realize this was essentially Jones’ rookie season. He played one game in 2017 after rehabbing all year from a ruptured Achilles tendon. Expectations are high, but the kid doesn’t need to be on a Hall of Fame trajectory after 10 games. Although the continuous stream of injuries is becoming concerning, Jones is turning 22. His critics should chill.

Verdict: Stays

Cre’Von LeBlanc

Roob: What a remarkable story. Went from the scrap heap to the practice squad to playing at such a high level in the by the end of the season that Pro Football Focus had him as the highest-rated corner in the entire postseason. LeBlanc really took ownership of the slot for the Eagles, and I don’t see him giving it up any time soon.

Verdict: Stays

Dave: LeBlanc was a revelation during the 2018 season. He was claimed off waivers from the Bears and played so well down the stretch, I think the nickel corner job ought to be his to lose. He’s making $720,000 for 2019, which is a huge bargain. 

Verdict: Stays

Kulp: Not sure the last time we’ve seen a player come from total obscurity and absolutely lock down a job in such a short amount of time. LeBlanc was plucked off waivers in November, and by the end of the season, there was pretty much no question he’s going to be the slot corner in 2019.

Verdict: Stays

Avonte Maddox

Roob: Like Douglas and LeBlanc, Maddox just kept getting better and better each week. He had a tough postseason, but you could definitely see the ability wherever he played — outside corner, slot, safety. For a 22-year-old fourth-round rookie, his confidence and production were remarkable. There’s a spot for him somewhere next year. The only question is where.

Verdict: Stays

Dave: He started to get picked on a little in the playoffs, but Maddox had a tremendous rookie season. He played well at three positions as a fourth-round pick and the Eagles desperately needed him. He’s back for Year 2 in 2019. 

Verdict: Stays 

Kulp: Guessing the Maddox hype train lost some steam after hitting a rough patch down the stretch. Still, strong rookie season. A fourth-round pick once imagined as a pure slot guy, Maddox performed well on the outside, as well as at safety where he might wind up carving out a niche next year in a surprisingly crowded secondary.

Verdict: Stays

Rasul Douglas

Roob: If you asked me two months ago I would have thought Douglas didn’t fit into the Eagles’ plans. He was struggling, he couldn’t get on the field and you really wondered if the Eagles had wasted a third-round pick. But Douglas blossomed the second half of the season and looking at it now, I’ve got him penciled in as one of my outside starters next year.

Verdict: Stays

Dave: When the Eagles’ secondary was in disarray, it was Douglas who stepped in and provided some stability. Heading into Year 3, he’s earned the right to battle for a starting cornerback job in 2019. 

Verdict: Stays 

Kulp: Tired of hearing about Douglas moving to safety. For one, I’m not sure it’s a fit. More importantly, he’s a decent corner. Douglas looked horrendous when he was first inserted into the lineup last season, but by the end, he was the Eagles’ most reliable cover man outside the numbers. Finished the regular season with a team-high three interceptions and was fourth with 57 tackles — he only started seven games!

Verdict: Stays

Josh Hawkins

Roob: Hawkins was put in a very tough position in the playoff game against the Saints, forced to play significant snaps just a month after joining the Eagles’ practice squad and a week after being activated. Drew Brees went right after him, and the results weren’t pretty. I’d still expect the Eagles to give Hawkins a look during the summer. We’ve seen so many other young corners come so far under Cory Undlin Hawkins will get every chance to do the same. But he’s facing an uphill battle.

Verdict: Goes

Dave: I almost felt bad for Hawkins in the divisional round game. He got thrown out there and didn’t really have a chance. He should be back in camp, but I think it’s going to be tough for him to make the roster. 

Verdict: Goes 

Kulp: Not even looking at Hawkins on his own merit, the Eagles are actually deep at cornerback. If somebody is cracking this group, it’s probably not the guy who showed up in December and, when pressed into action against the Saints, was completely out of his depth.

Verdict: Goes 

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Eagles injury update: Fletcher Cox (foot), Rasul Douglas (ankle) return vs. Saints

Eagles injury update: Fletcher Cox (foot), Rasul Douglas (ankle) return vs. Saints

NEW ORLEANS — The injuries are piling up in the Superdome.

Fletcher Cox just gingerly walked off the field after getting hurt as the Saints converted on fourth down with a fake punt. He returned in the final minute of the second quarter.

And just a couple plays later, Michael Bennett got hurt. He was able to walk to the sideline on his own power and returned to the field after missing just two plays. 

Meanwhile, Rasul Douglas returned in the second half after suffering an ankle injury.

This all happened after the Eagles already lost Brandon Brooks, who was carted off in the first quarter.

The Eagles are winning, but they’ve already lost a bunch of good players in the process and there’s a long way to go.

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