When the Cincinnati Bengals released the name of their fifth-round selection in last weekend’s NFL Draft, they listed former Kansas University offensive lineman Tanner Hawkinson as a guard.
During his four seasons at KU, in which he started a school-record 48 straight games, Hawkinson played three years at left tackle and another at right tackle. But it turns out Hawkinson’s versatility was one of the biggest reasons the Bengals targeted the 6-foot-5, 298-pound McPherson native.
Some folks out there believe his best position in the NFL actually might be center.
That’s the belief held by former NFL offensive-line coach Hudson Houck, with whom Hawkinson trained leading up to the draft.
“I talked to Hudson, and he thought his best position was actually center,” said Cincinnati offensive-line coach Paul Alexander. “He didn’t discount the other positions. He’s certainly smart enough.”
Throughout his pre-draft training, Hawkinson said Houck emphasized the concept of being a utility man along the O-line.
“He had us working a lot at all positions — guard, snapping the ball — just to make sure we knew how vital it was to know all the positions,” Hawkinson said. “I haven’t had any in-game experience at guard or center, but I’m confident I can pick those up quickly.”
Hawkinson’s intelligence and athleticism rarely have been questioned. His strength, however, is a different story.
“He needs to get stronger,” Alexander said. “And he’s kind of a young guy, body-wise, maybe a little bit behind some others, and is going to mature and get stronger and grow into it and, hopefully, be a great NFL player.”
Added Hawkinson, who recorded a low-for-his-position 13 reps in the bench press (225 pounds) during pre-draft workouts: “That’s (strength) one of the areas I need to improve upon. And it’s something that I’ve been hitting hard. I’m going to have to continue to work at it.”
2 more get camp invites
Add two more names to the list of former Jayhawks to receive mini-camp invitations.
Offensive lineman Duane Zlatnik (Jacksonville) and defensive end Josh Williams (Chicago) learned of their invitations Monday.
Zlatnik, 6-foot-4, 306 pounds, is the third offensive lineman from last year’s team to draw NFL interest, joining Hawkinson and center Trevor Marrongelli, who was invited to camp by Detroit.
“I’m just glad to be in a camp and get the opportunity to compete,” said Zlatnik, a Rossville native.
Williams, 6-4, 255, is the second former Jayhawk invited to camp by Chicago, joining linebacker Tunde Bakare.
Nine players from last year’s 1-11 team will be in NFL camps this month. Hawkinson goes as a draft pick, safety Bradley McDougald and cornerback Greg Brown signed undrafted-free-agent deals Saturday night, and quarterback Dayne Crist (Kansas City) and defensive end Toben Opurum (Kansas City) round out the list of six mini-camp invitees.
Weis on the road
Last year, KU coach Charlie Weis spent the month of May touring the state to drum up support for his new football program. This year, Weis is taking his show farther afield.
KU recently announced the dates of an eight-city regional tour that includes stops at several major KU alumni bases and begins Thursday in Denver.
Dubbed the Kansas Football Preview Party, Weis and special guests from the KU athletic department will talk about the state of the program and the upcoming season at happy hours and luncheons open to the public. There is a charge — $10 to $20 — for most of the events, but the first two, Thursday in Denver and May 8 in Houston, are free.
Other cities included on the tour are: Dallas (May 9), St. Louis (May 15), Wichita (May 16), Liberal (May 16), Chicago (May 21) and Topeka (May 22).