GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A player always knows where he stands with Joe Whitt. Everyone who plays for him does.
The Green Bay Packers cornerbacks coach rewrites the depth chart every day and posts it on the wall in their meeting room.
"The thing is, the room really sets itself," Whitt said. "I rank every practice, do the regression. Hey, the top three guys on there, they'll go out there with the ones. The next three guys will go out [with the twos]. That's how I explain it. It is what it is. It sets itself."
Most days last season, then-rookie Josh Hawkins found his name at or near the bottom of that list.
Hawkins, the long-armed, speedy former undrafted free agent from East Carolina, finally saw his name near the top last week in practice. With Davon House (hamstring) and Damarious Randall (concussion) sidelined, Hawkins took almost every rep with the starters in practice, then went out Saturday night at Washington and had the game of his NFL life.
Granted, it was only preseason, but Hawkins registered a team-high three pass breakups -- including on would-be touchdowns -- and made five tackles in a 37-play stint against the Redskins.
A day later, coach Mike McCarthy said Hawkins graded out as the Packers' top cornerback, which likely means he'll get another shot with the starters this week.
"It was an opportunity that he had earned," McCarthy said. "And with that, he stepped up and performed."
It's a long way from last Sept. 25, when Hawkins gave up a 73-yard touchdown to Detroit's Marvin Jones Jr. on an embarrassing play on two accounts. Not only did Hawkins get beat off the line, but he then gave up on the play while Jones tiptoed his way down the right sideline.
Hawkins did not play a single snap on defense again until the NFC divisional playoff game at Dallas nearly four months later. He was relegated only to special-teams duties when he wasn't on the inactive list, even as Whitt's troops were hit by injuries.
Whitt's daily depth chart updates served as motivation and the Jones touchdown as a learning experience.
"Play until the whistle's blown, basically," Hawkins said. "It was a minor mistake, something that I'll never do again. I'm always running to the ball, trying to get my helmet on the other guy's helmet, just trying to be seen, really, and make plays and make sure the coaches and scouts and all that, they notice me."
Even early in training camp this year, Hawkins' play -- to hear Whitt describe it last week -- was "up and down." Something clicked within the last week or so, and Hawkins has all of a sudden thrown himself into the mix with Quinten Rollins and top draft pick Kevin King for one of the top three spots as long as House and Randall are sidelined -- and perhaps even after that.
"At some point in time I was going to make myself one of those, top-four or top-five guys," Hawkins said Sunday. "I just had to go out there and prove it. I know I'm fast. I'm probably one of the fastest in the group, so I'm must putting my ability to use so I can be seen and coach Whitt and Dom [Capers] they're like, 'We've got to put [No.] 28 somewhere on that field.'"
Green Bay has been a haven for undrafted cornerbacks. From Tramon Williams to Sam Shields, players without much fanfare have flourished here. House recently compared Hawkins to Shields, and the second-year pro admitted he tried to pick up as much as he could before Shields' concussion in last year's season opener ended his season and his time in Green Bay.
The similarities between Hawkins and Shields are apparent both in appearance and style of play. Both based their games on speed. Hawkins ran a 4.39 40-yard dash at his Pro Day, yet it wasn't enough for him to get drafted. Shields ran a 4.30 and was long considered the fastest player on the team.
"They were telling me about how Sam Shields came in here as an undrafted rookie and started and played and been a tremendous player," Hawkins said. "When he came in here, I actually was just molding myself to be just like him. I wore the arm bands, the tape, the white gloves just like him, because I've got that whole Sam Shields feel. Some of the guys, they called me 'Little Sam Shields.' I'm just trying to play like him."