Hawkins story a reminder

Andrew Hawkins

The Jerome Simpson signing in Minnesota little more than 48 hours before Thursday night's first round doesn't appear to deter the Bengals draft plans.

Since Simpson was a free agent just emerging from a 15-day jail sentence and a three-game suspension, he was seen as insurance at best after the draft. And the Bengals aren't wavering from their belief that receivers such as Brandon Tate and Armon Binns have the potential to give them more reliability than the mercurial Simpson did in his up-and-down year last season as A.J. Green's running mate.

But given that Tate is the club's most experienced receiver with 34 NFL games but no catches as a Bengal and Binns has yet to take an NFL snap, the Bengals are no doubt looking to draft a receiver this weekend. Even as early as the first round if the right guy is there.

Yet head coach Marvin Lewis's eloquent retelling of the Andrew Hawkins story at his Tuesday draft news conference is Exhibit A why the Bengals aren't panicking. Hawkins is a slot receiver and they're looking for a No. 2 that can play on the outside. But receivers can be found.

They can be the fourth pick in the draft, like Green. They can be in the seventh round, like T.J. Houshmandzadeh, the franchise's third all-time leading receiver. And they can be in the CFL, like Hawkins, last year's longshot rookie who became a valuable role player as a slot receiver and special teams cover man.

While praising the NFL's decision to expand its training camp rosters to 90, Lewis used Hawkins as a prime example how it helps teams develop young players.

"One guy that sticks in my mind right now is Andrew Hawkins," Lewis said. "Had the numbers not been where they were last year, Andrew Hawkins probably would have not have got the shot to show. We had the flexibility to bring him in after he was released (from the Rams) and keep him around and nurse him through an injury to get him out there to show what he can do and he benefited from that number."

Hawkins knew the score last year when he surfaced at the Bengals training camp following his one practice with the Rams. He was there because of the 90 rule instead of the usual 80, instituted because of the lockout. After he went undrafted in 2008 out of Toledo, Hawkins had a rousing rookie minicamp workout with the Browns.

But the numbers betrayed him.

"Phil Savage called me in for a long talk. We must have talked for about an hour," Hawkins said of the Cleveland general manager. "He just told me that he couldn't sign me with the numbers. There wasn't the room and if the rules were like they were the year before, he could have done it."

But in Cincinnati in the 2011 preseason, Hawkins got his shot. He made a few tackles and blocks on special teams. He had a big catch in Jersey against the Jets. On his first punt return since high school he took it for 30 yards. He went from the practice squad to the active roster the second week of the season when Jordan Shipley tore his ACL.

The rest is history: five special teams tackles, 23 catches for 263 yards and five runs for 25 yards. The Bengals finished seventh covering punts and third covering kicks, in large part because of Hawkins's speed and willingness. Now he is seen as one of the club's more solid role players.

"One thing that Coach Lewis and the coaches do is give guys a chance," Hawkins said. "I didn't get a a lot of opportunity, but when I did I was able to show them I belonged. And that's the way it should be. That's the way this game is played. When your number is called, you have to perform no matter what the circumstances."

Hawkins is certain that one of them will emerge here, too, and he's pleased for Simpson and plans to text him.

"We've got a lot of talent here," Hawkins said. "Except for Brandon, all of us are in our second year. A.J. Ryan (Whalen). If you count Shipley because he played only two games his second year. Armon. There's a lot of talented guys."

And not all of them came out of the draft. Binns is an undrafted free agent. Tate came off the waiver wire. Hawkins came from guts and glory.

"You look up two or three years later and they become the nuts and bolts of your team because they remember how they got here," Lewis said of the underdogs and the 90 rule. "So they don't take anything for granted."

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