Packers' 2016 undrafted free agents making big impact on defense

Evans, Hawkins led defensive attack in Washington
Posted at 8:26 PM, Aug 20, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-20 21:36:17-04

A week after whiffing 16 missed tackles in the preseason opener against Philadelphia, the Packers made a statement Saturday night in Washington, missing on many fewer targets and making big stops at the right time.

"It's just a mindset: getting 11 guys to the ball. It's hard to break 11 tackles at once, you know. So trying to not to put it all on one guy, trying to not have one guy make a solo tackle because those guys get paid too. It's harder than it looks,” said rookie cornerback Kevin King. “So we’re really focusing on our tackling, getting to the ball. I think it showed."

And if the defense was led by a MVP, his name would be Josh Hawkins.

The second-year cornerback broke up three passes (a game high) and led the team with seven tackles, but his presence was also felt beyond the stat sheet. His tackling in space was strong, and he handled a mismatch with Redskins TE Vernon Davis like a pro.

"I practice with the twos threes and ones. So I just go out there and perform just like I know how to practice," Hawkins said after the Packers' win. "Just treat these games just like practice, no matter if I'm with the ones, twos or threes, it doesn't matter. I just practice hard, I play fast and physical."

"He had the highest grade of the corners last night," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said Sunday. "So that was exciting to see because it was an opportunity that he had earned. And with that, he stepped up and performed."

Last week's tackling leader, safety Marwin Evans, only allowed nine yards on two targets thrown his way last night and had a huge stop near the line of scrimmage. Against the Eagles, he hauled in a pick and led the team in tackles. Evans also was the highest-rated Packer from Saturday’s game, according to Pro Football Focus.

And before safety Kentrell Brice injured his finger against Philly, he was having a solid camp and was expected to contribute in big ways, especially in a strong safety role in Dom Capers' infamous "nitro" package.

Those three, all coming into their second year as Packers, are making the most of every rep, wherever it may come at this point in the preseason.

"Three of those guys in that second year leap that you like to see from your players. They're all four-down players, which is critical to our success as a football team. They've all made big steps with the opportunities on defense as far as playing multiple packages," McCarthy said. "Son very happy with all three of those guys."

So for any fans worried about how the Packers' defense is going to perform this year, if the preseason so far is any indicator, there may be a lot to look forward to as these young players develop even further.