Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Andrew Hawkins is a better player in the NFL than he was in the CFL. And he owes it all to his mentor — Marc Trestman.
‘‘I probably wouldn’t be in the NFL had I not had the opportunity to play for him,’’ said Hawkins, who will not play in Sunday’s opener against the Bears because of an ankle injury but will make the trip. ‘‘He taught me how to be a professional — about my work, my attitude. I’ve said it numerous times: I thank God for the opportunity to play under him, because I don’t think I’d be where I am today without him.’’
The 5-7, 180-pound Hawkins was an undrafted free agent out of Toledo who lost in the reality show ‘‘4th and Long’’ for a shot at an NFL training camp (he finished second). But Trestman gave him the chance nobody else would.
Bengals wide receiver Andrew Hawkins last year. | AP
Hawkins, the younger brother of former Bengals cornerback Artrell Hawkins, was a supporting player for Trestman’s 2009 and 2010 Grey Cup championship teams with the Montreal Alouettes. He had 13 receptions for 131 yards and three touchdowns in 2009 and 28 receptions for 326 yards and two touchdowns in 2010.But he parlayed the two years with Trestman into NFL opportunities. After getting cut by the Rams he made the Bengals in 2011. Last year, he was their third leading receiver with 51 receptions for 533 yards and four touchdowns.
How did Trestman make a difference?
‘‘It’s not anything specific — it’s probably just the opposite,’’ Hawkins said. ‘‘To see how detailed he was and it was a trickle-down effect. Yeah, it was Canadian football, but it was still a professional football organization. He had to get a lot of people to buy into one thing for a common goal.
‘‘I was fortunate enough to be up there the two years he won a championship. Just being able to watch him, the business-like attitude. Everything was done with a purpose — that was probably the No. 1 thing that I learned from him, that everything you do has a purpose to it. That’s who he is to his core on and off the field. That was something I took away from him and I continue to use today.’’
He said his experience with Trestman was different from any other coach he’s played for — another testament to the unique way Trestman has of getting through to players.
‘‘I wish I could explain it,’’ Hawkins said. ‘‘All coaches are detailed. But every coaching style is different. With him it was something unique that you’re not seeing in football.
‘‘I have a great coach in Marvin Lewis — he lights a fire under you. He wants to motivate you verbally and get you to go out there and get things done. That’s a great way to do it. With Marc, what’s so unique about him is you’re not used to seeing that style in a football setting. He doesn’t raise his voice very much. He tells you exactly what he wants in the same tone. He’ll tell you you’re wrong in the same tone he tells you ‘Great job.’ It’s unique. I think it works. You buy into it. I think you don’t have a choice but to buy into it because it’s proven.’’
Hawkins’ story is a lesson in Trestman’s coaching style — he deals with each player differently depending on their situation. ‘‘He’s very good at reading people,’’ Hawkins said. ‘‘He’s good at reading players and different personalities and adjusting accordingly.’’
Hawkins, for instance, was late to training camp in Montreal in 2009 because of his participation in the ‘‘4th and Long’’ show and needed time to acclimate to the CFL game.
‘‘He really brought me along slowly because it was my first shot at professional football. He kind of pumped the brakes on me a little bit and let me learn and watch and put things together. I appreciated it. He was probably the first coach to give me a real shot as far as learning receiver, playing receiver and giving me my chance.’’
That bodes well for young receivers on the Bears such as Marquess Wilson and Joe Anderson.
‘‘Playing professional football and playing receiver at the professional level, it’s a lot different than playing in college,’’ Hawkins said. ‘‘There are certain things you do in your game. It could be the most simple things. He is a quarterback guru, but in order for the quarterback play to be good, everybody has to be on the same page. As receivers, we’re used to ad-libbing or kind of doing whatever we have to do to get open. But the most important thing to him is that we’re doing exactly what he’s telling the quarterbacks we’re going to do. He has his hand in the entire offense. It’s his job to make sure everybody’s on the same page.
‘‘We could be a yard outside of our split — if he told us to line up at the top of the numbers and we were a yard outside of it and we caught the ball for a 50-yard touchdown, [at] meetings the next day he’d say, ‘Hey, you’re a yard outside of your numbers. That’s why the ball was on the outside shoulder instead of your chest. If you’d have been on top of the numbers the ball would have hit you in the chest.’’’
It remains to be seen if Bears players will respond to that kind of meticulous teaching. But Hawkins, based on his experience, thinks it will.
‘‘Even if I didn’t know much about the Bears offense and what was going on, he’s the type of person to study and figure it out,’’ Hawkins said. ‘‘It’s only a matter of time.’’