Terry Hawthorne was a Parade All-America receiver as a high school senior in East St. Louis, Ill. At the University of Illinois, he was converted to cornerback and developed into a top NFL prospect by the time his junior season ended.
But after a senior season that some termed disappointing, Hawthorne was downgraded from a potential high-round to a low-round draft choice.
The Steelers selected him in the fifth round recently in the NFL draft, and they believe they have a talented player who can grow into a quality NFL corner.
"He is fast," Steelers defensive backs coach Carnell Lake said. "What I like about Terry is that he has a lot of upside potential that I see in him. I think he has all the physical tools. He is big. He is fast. He doesn't mind tackling, and he can play press coverage well, kind of in the same way as an Ike Taylor."
Hawthorne, who is 6 feet, 190 pounds, was a full-time starter for two seasons with the Fighting Illini, earning All-Big Ten Conference honorable mention both seasons. In 26 starts, he had six career interceptions, including two that were returned for touchdowns.
Hawthorne went through rookie camp with the Steelers' other draft picks and free agents over the weekend. He said he is relearning how to play the position after Lake discovered he had been getting by in college with improper technique.
"I'm just trying to get my technique down," Hawthorne said. "They've been correcting me on my technique. I had bad technique. As I'm getting my technique better, they're starting to get a little more comfortable with me."
Once Hawthorne fine-tunes his technique, Lake envisions him competing with other young and unproven players in the secondary.
Veteran Taylor and third-year pro Cortez Allen are expected to be the starting corners this fall after Keenan Lewis signed with the New Orleans Saints in the offseason. The Steelers signed veteran William Gay to be their third corner, and Hawthorne will be competing to add depth.