Way back at the NFL combine while Cesar Ruiz was sharing his story with reporters earlier this year, he was asked to name a Michigan player no one was talking about who would have a big year in the fall for the Wolverines.
He didn’t hesitate.
“Brad Hawkins on the defensive side of the ball,” Ruiz, like Hawkins a Camden, New Jersey native, said at the time. “He had an ankle thing that kept him out a little bit (late last season), but if you watch what he's able to do on the field, if you watch what he's able to do in practice, he's special.
“I think Brad Hawkins is going to have a great season, and no one's really talking about it, which I'm surprised. But I believe something special is coming for Brad.”
Hawkins, 6-foot-1, 218 pounds, played in 11 games last season at safety — he missed the Indiana and Ohio State games because of the leg injury that never was specified by Michigan, but practiced for the Citrus Bowl against Alabama and played some snaps. He finished the season with 53 tackles and was named the team’s most improved defensive player. He and Dax Hill, a freshman last season, are projected to be the starting safeties this season.
Bob Shoop, Michigan’s new safeties coach, appeared on the “In the Trenches” podcast in March and already had a good feel for Hawkins’ abilities.
“He brings a tremendous amount of experience,” Shoop said. “I think the expectations are he’s going to be one of the leaders of this unit.”
Hawkins was a four-star receiver out of high school and after spending a year at Suffield Academy, arrived at Michigan and became a special-teams regular as a freshman in 2017. He also made the switch to defense. The next season, he played in eight games at safety. In 2019, he made 10 starts in 11 games played.
Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown, who spoke with reporters last Thursday via video conference, said Hawkins, a senior, has emerged as one of the defensive leaders with whom he has been meeting virtually. In fact, the defensive leaders and Brown met last Friday.
“Obviously, (Hawkins) was a big loss to us at the end of the year, and it took Daxton Hill, who's an excellent player, and put him into a role and, obviously, that was a very good experience for Dax,” Brown said. “But the overall play on defense obviously gets impacted because you lose a player of Brad Hawkins’ stature.
“The nice thing about Brad is he's learned the defense. There were times in his career where he was going through the growing pains of executing at an elite level. And it took him took him some time to learn that. Plus, I also believe on the back end, you develop confidence as you play and play well, and you cover guys and have the ability to cover, and this guy, everything's on the upswing. It really is.”
Expectations, as Ruiz said at the combine, are high for Hawkins.
“I feel very strongly about him having a strong year,” Brown said. “And then we'll be wishing him good thoughts as he heads to the NFL.”