BEREA, Ohio — When the Browns signed restricted free agent Andrew Hawkins to an offer sheet at the start of free agency there were some eyebrows raised.
The Browns signed Hawkins to a four-year contract reportedly worth $13.6 million with $10.8 million in the first two years. A price the Bengals decided was too steep to pay.
That is a lot of money for a player who has never been more than the fourth or fifth option in the passing game. Also, at 5-7, 180 pounds, durability could be a big question. He missed 10 games over the past two seasons with ankle and knee injuries.
In 2013, Hawkins had just 12 receptions for 199 yards in eight games. In three seasons with the Bengals, Hawkins had 86 receptions for 995 yards (11.6 avg.) with four touchdowns. His best season was 2012, when he had 51 catches for 533 yards (10.5 avg.) and all four of his NFL touchdowns.
Through two games, Hawkins already has 14 receptions for 157 yards (11.2 avg.), including a long of 28 yards to lead the team. He has almost twice as many catches as Mile Austin, who is second with eight receptions.
Hawkins has been Brian Hoyer’s favorite target in both games. He had 10 targets against the Steelers and caught eight passes for 87 yards and then had 12 targets and six receptions for 70 yards against the Saints, including the 28 yard reception to set up the game-winning field goal with six seconds to play.
Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said he’s always liked Hawkins.
"I’m very pleased (with his play)," Shanahan said after practice Thursday. "I’ve always liked him his whole career. As I’m getting to know him, he wants the ball. he wants to block (and be successful)."
Mike Pettine said he and Ray Farmer saw big play potential with Hawkins and that is why they targeted him. They also saw his leadership ability and some of the intangibles in Hawkins.
"We wanted to bring guys in that play like a Brown," Pettine said. "A lot of attention goes to (Donte) Whitner and (Karlos) Dansby, but Hawk’s right up there with those other guys.
"He’s not a real vocal leader, but when he feels the need to speak up, he’ll do it and guys listen because there’s a lot of respect for him, for the circumstances he’s had to overcome to get to where he is now," he said. "There’s a lot of respect for him for the way he approaches his craft in the weight room, the meeting room, practice field and it obviously, carries over the games."
Pettine admitted Hawkins slight build is a concern.
"There is and we’ve talked about it as we move along there might be some days off during the week, if we feel it’s necessary for him and if it’s a matter of saving him from himself," Pettine said. "We talked about it during training camp, that he goes so hard, the offensive staff, (wide receivers coach) Mike McDaniel does a good job of monitoring his steps just to see what his daily workload is.
"It is difficult for a guy built like that and as fearless as he is and goes as hard as he does. That is a potential issue."
Shanahan said just because he’s small, doesn’t mean he can’t play physical.
"He’s smaller but he’s not a weak guy."
Hawkins’ career has also gone full circle as he was with the Browns on a tryout basis under Eric Mangini in 2009 and was not signed after playing his college football at Toledo. He then went to the CFL in 2009-10 and helped Montreal win a Grey Cup before joining the Bengals in 2011
Hoyer said he loves the group of receivers he’s working with because many have similar backgrounds as he has after being undrafted coming out of college and overlooked.
"I love all those guys just because their mentality is to come out and work and get as much better every day as they can," Hoyer said. "They work really hard. They’re in the scheme. It’s not easy. We’re moving those guys around. It can be difficult, and each and every one of them studies their butt off. They go out there and practice really hard, and when you have that you have a lot of trust in those guys because you know they know what they’re supposed to do and they’re going to do 120 percent.
"As far as the past two weeks, I think all of them have caught balls," he said. "They’ve all stepped up at big times, and like I said, I have confidence in all of them, which makes it easy for me because I just go through my progression and try to find the open guy."
Hoyer said he hasn’t had to adjust his passes because he’s throwing to a smaller target in the likes of Hawkins.
"No, I think that just comes with knowing who your receiver is," Hoyer said. "Obviously, Miles and ‘Hawk’ are a little bit different in stature, but the more repetition you get with guys and how they run certain routes and where you can place the ball, that obviously becomes more apparent."
Hoyer said one of the best traits of Hawkins is the fact that he’s consistent.
"I think Hawk has always been very consistent, and that’s what I admire about him most," Hoyer said. " Ever since he first got here, the one thing you know you’re going to get from Hawk is 120 percent effort. He’s going to give it all he has, whether he knows he’s getting the ball or not. He’s going to know exactly where he’s supposed to be and kind of just comes together as you go along. Like you said, it’s been looking pretty good the last two weeks."
D-Line Back to Full Strength: It is expected the Browns will have their full complement of defensive linemen available for Sunday’s game for the first time. DL John Hughes (hamstring) missed the first two games, while DL Desmond Bryant (wrist) missed the first game.
"It will be good to have that group completely healthy and out there," Pettine said. "It will make for some tough decisions. That’s a deep group. You need that depth to make it through a season as it’s already shown. You need guys to step up, but it’s a good problem to have. We have a some good quality of defensive linemen."
Pettine was asked how Bryant played in his first game last week.
"He was solid," Pettine said. "Nothing spectacular. I think it was typical of a guy coming off a long layoff. With the depth of the group and quality there we can feed the hot hand as to who’s playing well."
Bryant was credited with two tackles.
Stop the Tight End: After facing TE Jimmy Graham last week, the Browns will not get a big break in going up against the Ravens’ TE’s Dennis Pitta and Owen Daniels. Graham had 10 receptions for 118 yards with two touchdowns.
"Jimmy Graham is in a class all by himself," Pettine said. "Those two guys are good payers. Owen Daniels has been around the league for a long time. He knows the system inside out. He knows how to get open. He has a great catch radius.
"Pitta seems to obviously have a good relationship with (Joe) Flacco," Pettine said. "There are a lot of targets that go his way. I would put him up there among the premier tight ends in league. He’s very underrated, but there’s a definite connection between he and the quarterback."
Pitta is tied with WR Steve Smith, Sr. as the Ravens leading receiver with 13 receptions for 113 yards, while Daniels is tied for second with 9 catches for 62 yards and two touchdowns.
No Kubiak: Ravens OC Gary Kubiak hadn’t decided if he was ready to coach this season when Pettine was looking for an offensive coordinator.
"I spoke to him over the phone but never got to (an interview stage)," Pettine said. "He wasn’t sure he wanted to get back into it. Circumstances never materialized."
Pettine hired Kubiak’s former OC Kyle Shanahan, while he was coach of the Texans.
No Distraction: Pettine said he wasn’t surprised that the Ravens and John Harbaugh were able to handle the distraction of the Ray Rice situation last week and went out and played a solid game and defeated the Steelers.
"It wasn’t a surprise," he said. "I know john and he’s as good a coach that there is. He always has a plan and is very organized and has a message to the team. It’s easy from the outside to see the swirling distractions but inside you don’t have much choice but to prepare."
Cameron, Mingo Questionable: RB Ben Tate (knee) remains the most likely player to not play Sunday against the ravens. LB Barkevious Mingo (shoulder) and TE Jordan Cameron (shoulder) were practicing during the portion of practice that is open to the media. Both were listed as limited on the injury report Wednesday.
Pettine said Wednesday that he was the least optimistic about Tate playing this week.
"I don’t see Tate going this week," Pettine said.
During the portion of practice that was open to the media, Tate was on the stationary bike, while Mingo and Cameron were doing the individual drills with their position coaches.
Three Rookie Starters: The most recent Browns depth chart lists three rookies as starters on offense in LG Joel Bitonio, FB Ray Agnew and RB Terrance West in place of the injured RB Ben Tate.
The Big Trade: Pettine was with the Ravens as a defensive coach in 2006 when the Browns flipped draft choices with the Ravens in order to take LB Kamerion Wimbley. The Ravens then took DL Haloti Ngata. The Browns traded the 12th pick to the Ravens for the 13th pick and a sixth-round pick (181st).
With the 13th pick, the Browns took Wimbley and DL Babatunde Oshinowo.
"Haloti, we were thrilled to get," Pettine said. "We felt it was a steal to get him where we did."
Ngata has been selected to the Pro Bowl five times since 2006.
Moore Returns: Special Teams coordinator Chris Tabor was asked why WR/KR Marlon Moore was the primary kickoff returner against the Saints instead of WR/KR Travis Benjamin.
"I like all our guys with regards to how New Orleans was going, (Moore) did some great things in the preseason," Tabor said. "Travis Benjamin will still also return a lot of kicks for us."
Moore had one return for 32 yards, with three others being touchbacks. Benjamin is the primary punt returner still. He had just one return for two yards, while having two fair catches.
Pettine Gives a Shout Out: Pettine started his press conference by praising one of his former players, DL Ma’ake Kemoeatu for retiring from the NFL this week to donate a kidney to his brother.
"Just before we start I want to give a shout-out to Ma’ake Kemoeatu," Pettine said. "I was in Baltimore when we signed him as an undrafted free agent, got to know him very well. He’s very tight with (defensive line coach) Anthony Weaver. ‘Weave’ was like a mentor, big brother to him. He went from a guy that just…undrafted guy, nobody thought he had a chance and turned into a heck of a player, went on to have a pretty good career. The recent news, very touching, just donated a kidney to his brother. It was ironic that on draft day we were on the phone with his brother Chris to sign him after the draft as a defensive lineman, and he said, ‘Wait, I have another phone call.’ It was the Steelers, they had drafted him in — I think it was — the sixth or seventh round. Today’s climate, most recent climate of the NFL is starved for some positive news, and this is certainly a piece that I think deserves a lot of attention."