When the New York Giants face the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday Night Football in their 2023 regular-season opener, both teams will be at least somewhat different than they were a season ago. The most surprising difference for the Giants? The presence of Tre Hawkins III, a rookie cornerback from Old Dominion drafted in the sixth round, in the team’s starting lineup.
How did this happen?
“He’s earned what he’s got,” head coach Brian Daboll said on Monday.
The Giants certainly did not see this coming — at least not this quickly — for Hawkins. Here is what GM Joe Schoen said the night the Giants selected Hawkins.
“We took him late in the sixth. From Old Dominion corner, height, weight, and speed prospect that has high upside. He’s a physical kid, not afraid to tackle. You see a trend with some of these guys that we took at that position. Good developmental prospect for Wink’s defense and projects well to special teams due to his physical traits and toughness.”
Catch that? “Good developmental prospect.” Not Week 1 starter against the Dallas Cowboys good enough to make the Giants change their plans and push Adoree’ Jackson, their No. 1 cornerback inside.
So, again, how did this happen?
What happened is actually simple. Day after day once training camp began Hawkins was better than his competition. He was better than Cor’Dale Flott and Darnay Holmes. He was better than Amani Oruwariye (practice squad), Zyon Gilbert, Rodarius Williams, Gemon Green and Darren Evans.
It was, honestly, obvious to the naked eye. It was also obvious to the Giants’ coaching staff when they watched practice, and then when they went back after practice and watched the film.
“I’d just say each and every day there’s an evaluation throughout camp from OTAs all the way through of basically how you perform on the field when you have an opportunity to perform,” Daboll said. “I think, again, he’s improved. Are you going to say he’s there? No. He’s a young player that has earned his role. He’s going to continue to work hard to try to get better. He has the right mindset. That’s what we hope for all of our players.”
Daboll doesn’t care when Hawkins was drafted.
“Once you get here, it really doesn’t matter how you get here. Free agency, late pick, UDFA, high pick, it’s all what you do when you are here,” Daboll said. “He’s earned what he’s got.”
The Giants, and Hawkins, certainly know that the Cowboys — and every other team — will test Hawkins. They also know he will, at times, fail.
“He will have his challenges throughout the year, but he’s done a good job with what we are looking for in terms of his intelligence, his dependability and he’s earned his role relative to what we are going to ask him to do,” Daboll said.
It is often said that players know players. Defensive line coach Andre Patterson said during training camp that the team’s veteran defensive linemen quickly realized that Jordon Riley was more than a non-descript seventh-round pick, and took an interest in helping him.
Adoree’ Jackson, who will move from outside cornerback to the slot to make a spot for Hawkins, is the Giants’ best cornerback. He knew what he was looking at as he watched Hawkins progress from spring thru the summer.
“I’m not even going to lie, it’d probably be when I just seen his work. He was going out there with the three’s and doing his thing, going with the two’s, doing this thing. It’s like, ‘Man, this guy keeps showing up,’” Jackson said. “I had seen him with the threes and the two’s but when he did it with the one’s, I don’t want to say it rung my radar, but it was one of those things where you knew he was about his business.
“When he came out there and competed and played. Then when you saw him in preseason games, the joint practice, and the rest of the games that we’ve played, he’s done a tremendous job and he just carries himself the right way. I can tell how he approaches the game – he respects the game a lot and I think that’s going to play dividends for him in the future.”
Like Daboll said, Hawkins played his way into a big role on the Giants’ defense.