Hawkins battles for job

BY GEOFF HOBSON

If there is one player who symbolizes the state of the Cincinnati Bengals, it has to be their embattled right cornerback.

Artrell Hawkins, the University of Cincinnati product taken in the second round of the 1998 Draft, could lose his starting job this week. But it's not for a lack of trying. In fact, it's because _ just like his team – the harder he tries the tougher it seems to get.

"All the pressing I've done as far as my game is concerned, I think I have to let it come to me," Hawkins said.

Asked if he gets too jacked up for games, Hawkins said, "Maybe. . .I want to perform so well, I want to be perfect. There's a lot of pressure on us as a team, as an organization and as players and you want to turn this thing around so badly and you press and it gets to the point if you don't do it right away, that's frustrating."

If it sounds like Hawkins is committed, dedicated and decent, it's because he is. Which is why it's so tough for secondary coach Ray Horton to send the message. If continues to be unable to translate what he does in practice to a game, he's on the bench.

"I didn't say that, you said that," said coach Dick LeBeau, when asked if the secondary was the obvious spot for a change. "We want to make more plays on third down. We want to have more pressure and when the ball is thrown, we want to get it or have it knocked down. That would be a constant based off some of the things that happened to us in (the 31-16 loss to Miami)."

In the last two games, foes have converted 18 of 28 third-down tries, 11 of them on plays of third-and-7, or longer. And on a third-and-two against the Dolphins, Hawkins was saddled with a 34-yard pass interference penalty when he got deked on a play-action fake. Plus, he's gone 19 straight games without an interception, dating back to his rookie season.

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Hawkins is sounding more and more like he's trying to get his instincts to take over. When Horton scouted Hawkins at UC, he coveted his speed, his size (5-10, 190) and his fearlessness when it came to coming up from the corner to stop the run.

Now his tackling has even betrayed him. His speed allows him to cover, but not to make a play on the ball. He's a player who has the scouts scratching their heads. Just ask Jim Lippincott, the Bengals director of pro/college personnel.

"When we saw him at UC, he could do everything as a cornerback and safety," Lippincott. "The only thing he couldn't do was find the ball when he had his back to the line of scrimmage. We figured we could teach him that and we have. You can tell in the summer. You can tell in practice. Raymond and Dick have done a wonderful job coaching him and he's a super kid, very coachable. But something happens to his mental discipline in a game."

Don' think Hawkins hasn't spent time thinking about what the difference is between practice and a game.

"You don't want to think too much in this game," Hawkins said. "As a defensive back, as a quarterback, a position like that, you just want it to come naturally. To react. So you go back to the film and you figure as long as your effort is up and the assignment is right. . ."

Hawkins said he's going to go out Sunday against the Titans, 'and play football like I've played for the last 15 years." He objects to the notion that this kind of pressure football isn't like the football from the previous 15 years.

"Sure you do, sure you do," Hawkins said. "I played at the University of Cincinnati and there was a lot of pressure to turn that thing around. I played (prep) football in Western Pennsylvania (in Johnstown, Pa.) and that's a football heaven. They love football there. When I got to UC, we weren't very good, but we ended up having three out of four winning seasons and went to the Humanitarian Bowl. It wasn't a big bowl, but it was a start."

Which is what Hawkins seeks. An interception. A fumble recovery. A pass knock down in the end zone. Just a start to get him started.

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