When the Tennessee Titans’ coaches look at their newest wide receiver hopeful, they can’t help but think a little bit about the past.
That’s because receiver Lavelle Hawkins reminds them a little bit of the most successful receiver the franchise has produced over the past decade — Derrick Mason.
Both players have similar builds — Mason is 5-10, 192 compared to Hawkins at 5-11, 188 — and both were fourth-round picks by Tennessee. Mason was taken in that round back in 1997 when the team first relocated from Houston and Hawkins comes in as part of the 2008 draft class.
But the reminders don’t end there.
“He probably has some Mase tendencies from what you saw on film,” said offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger, under whose tutelage Mason developed from backup to Pro Bowl standout. “He’s got quick feet and real good hands. When we watched film, he could shake people and get open, a little bit like Mase in size and quick feet and all that stuff. We’ll see what he can handle.”
If Hawkins can come anywhere close to Mason’s production, the Titans will take it. After emerging in Tennessee as Steve McNair’s go-to receiver, Mason has taken his act to Baltimore and continued to be productive, as he rung up his sixth 1,000-yard receiving season in the past seven years and had a career-high 103 receptions last year at age 33.
Titans coach Jeff Fisher sees some similarities between his rookie receiver and the player Mason was for Tennessee several seasons ago.
“I drew that analogy. Obviously, you’re comparing him to a great player and he’s got a ways to close that gap, but you can see some similarities,” Fisher said.
Hawkins thrived at Cal, catching 72 passes and operating a good bit of the time in the slot position, much like Mason used to do. Like Mason, one of his best characteristics is a knack for getting open.
“It’s his quickness, his quickness and his hand-eye coordination. He can get in and out of routes. We knew that, and that’s why we drafted him,” Fisher said. “He can get in and out of routes, come to balance, drop his hips, snap off clean breaks and when you can do that, you can get open.”
Hawkins seems content right now to just figure out the playbook and not concern himself with any comparison to Titans past.
“I’m very happy to be here. I feel like I have a great opportunity here. I have a lot of great guys around me. I just feel like it’s going to be a great experience for me,” Hawkins said. “I’m just going to try to go out there and learn these plays and stay in shape and healthy and we’ll just take it from there.”
Hawkins does have one distinction, though. He was the only receiver drafted by the Titans this season, even after the so-called experts ranked it as the team’s No. 1 offseason need.
“I guess I would say I feel special [being the only draft pick]. But I feel like I have to come here and work hard and stay healthy and do my best to help this team, and that’s my goal for this year,” Hawkins said.
As for the comparisons to Mason, there is another similarity the two share. Both players played a good portion of their college careers in the shadows of more heralded players. Mason was a teammate of Muhsin Muhammad until his senior year at Michigan State, and Hawkins, of course, operated alongside the flashier and more hyped DeSean Jackson, who went to Philadelphia in the second round of this year’s draft.
“It was great to play with DeSean. I had a great time with him, but now we’re both on NFL teams and I think we’ve both reached our goals,” Hawkins said of his Cal teammate.
But Heimerdinger likes the fact that Hawkins was so productive in the Golden Bears’ offense, despite Jackson often being the focal point.
“That’s what we saw on film, a guy who made a lot of catches and made a lot of plays in an offense where he was not the featured guy, yet had a lot of catches,” Heimerdinger said.