Cleveland Browns: Will Andrew Hawkins make the final roster?
By Thomas Moore
The Cleveland Browns can use a veteran among the young wide receivers. But will that be enough to land Andrew Hawkins a roster spot in 2016?
In a little more than a week, the first wave of roster cuts will take place across the NFL.
The Cleveland Browns will join the other 31 teams in reducing rosters to a maximum of 75 players by Aug. 30 at 4 p.m. While there are several familiar names that are on the roster bubble for the Browns, it is unlikely that they will be among the initial purge.
But just because they make it through next week doesn’t mean they are ensured a spot on the final roster, and wide receiver Andrew Hawkins is a player to keep an eye on.
Unlike some of the other veterans who will be packing their belongings for the final time in a few weeks, Hawkins has been a productive player at the NFL level since joining the Cincinnati Bengals as an undrafted free agent in 2011.
Hawkins spent three years with the Bengals before signing with the Browns as a free agent prior to the 2014 season. That first year in Cleveland, Hawkins was a full-time starter for the first time in his career and responded with 63 receptions for 824 yards, cementing his status as one of the league’s best slot receivers.
“We have a lot of work to put in still because the talent is only one side of it, and I think everybody is taking the steps to get that done.” – Andrew Hawkins
The sixth-year pro struggled in 2015, however, as concussions limited him to just eight games, 27 receptions and 276 yards.
Hawkins entered training camp this summer with a few things working in his favor, most notably his familiarity with head coach Hue Jackson. While Jackson was never directly responsible for Hawkins while they were together in Cincinnati, Jackson knows the type of player Hawkins is after going against him each day in practice as the secondary coach in 2012 and contributing to the offensive game plan as running backs coach in 2013.
The Browns also need, at least in theory, a veteran presence among the wide receivers after selecting four wide receivers in the 2016 NFL Draft. That quartet joins Josh Gordon, who has only played in five games over the past two seasons; Terrelle Pryor, who comes into the year with one career reception; and Taylor Gabriel who, like Hawkins, is coming off an injury-plagued season.
Hawkins has not been able to make an impression, however, as he has been out since Aug. 3 with a hamstring injury. While Corey Coleman has also missed the team’s first two preseason games with a hamstring injury, whenever Jackson talks about getting players back on the field, Coleman’s name is mentioned while Hawkins is not.
The veteran presence may also work against Hawkins as the Browns are in a full-on reboot of the franchise and working to distance themselves from almost every player on the wrong side of 30. If the Browns are truly committed, they could break camp with the four rookies, Pryor, Gabriel and special teams ace Marlon Moore as their seven wide receivers, and then release Gabriel when Gordon is eligible to return from his four-game suspension.
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The team could also open up a roster spot by placing one of the rookie receivers, most likely Ricardo Louis, on the practice squad, but that carries the risk of losing Louis to another team.
While things are not going the way he planned this summer, Hawkins has a positive attitude about the untapped potential among the receivers.
“I’m really excited just because I know what kind of an offensive mind Hue is and I know what kind of untapped potential that we have,” he recently said. “What is potential, though? We have to show it out there. We have to prove it. We have to put the work in. It’s not something that is going to happen overnight.
“Consistency is the name of the game in the NFL so we have to figure out a way to not only be good but be good on a consistent basis. Otherwise, like I said, it’s just all headlines and quotes.”
Time is running short for Hawkins to show the coaching staff he still has something to offer. Friday night’s preseason friendly against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is the last time the starters will see extensive action. After that, it is all rookies and fringe players before the final roster cuts are due.
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There is still a real chance that Hawkins will not make the season opener in Philadelphia in a Browns uniform, but his combination of production and off-the-field tangibles should help him claim a roster spot.