BY GEOFF HOBSON
Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said cornerback Artrell Hawkins had a great minicamp, head coach Bruce Coslet agreed and Hawkins isn't surprised people are watching. Not after his second NFL season last year, when he struggled with injury and inconsistency and heard the Bengals say they were looking for a starter at his right corner spot.
"I was banged up last year," Hawkins said. "More than I let on."
Hawkins doesn't offer that as an excuse. He'll tell you flat out why he didn't have an interception last year in 14 games: "I dropped them. Go back and look. I dropped them." Then he'll detail the drop against the Colts, the drop against Jacksonville that he says would have been a 90-yard touchdown, and the two drops against Baltimore.
No excuses, but Hawkins is telling you why he changed his off-season regimen. Hawkins' ankle bothered him ever since he nicked it just before the season and he missed two games and parts of two others with a sprained right ankle and sprained left shoulder.
"Those little bumps and bruises take away from your game," Hawkins said. "I paid attention to detail in every little aspect. I worked on getting my fingers strong. Every time I take the field, no matter for how long or what I'm doing, I tape my wrists and my ankles. I ran hills to work on my explosion and trying to keep my legs fresh all through the year."
Take two weeks ago. While Hawkins was lifting, he felt a twinge in the shoulder that he sprained. He backed off the weights because he wanted to be on the field at minicamp, able to pick up his hands so he could make a play on the ball. He was healthy enough to make two interceptions this weekend and get the Bengals hoping he would progress like he did during his rookie season.
"You guys who have been around me know I'll never lose my confidence," Hawkins said.
Or his conditioning. Hawkins will proudly tell you he was the University of Cincinnati's best conditioned player all four of his years. One look at this weekend's conditioning and what else is new? Hawkins leading every sprint by yards.
"I'm never going to be in the back," Hawkins said.
Coslet is watching: "It's his third year. It's time to produce. He's not a young player anymore. He's just coming into his peak performance years. I expect big things from him."