New England has found a safety net through the University of Washington. Already with Pro Bowler Lawyer Milloy in place, the Patriots could have a Husky backfield down the road with Hakim Akbar joining the secondary.
Those who know Washington football say Akbar is a mix of Milloy and former Husky Tony Parrish, now with the Chicago Bears. Akbar hits hard like Milloy, but has the range and fluid style of Parrish. When he got the call from New England, he was thrilled at the prospect of teaming with Milloy.
"They have a great safety there in Lawyer Milloy, and maybe I can learn a lot of things from him," said Akbar, who also played with Patriots wide receiver Dane Looker. "I haven't talked to them yet, but it feels good to come up there and already have some people you know who can show you the ropes a little bit."
Like Milloy, Akbar is extremely aggressive on the field. He makes no secret about his favorite part of the game.
"Oh yeah, I love bringing the wood," Akbar said. "I am a strong tackler and I pick up on things pretty well. I think that I bring a lot to the table and hopefully I can come in and play. Obviously that depends on how well I play and pick the defense up, but it's going to be exciting to see what I get done. I just haven't stopped smiling since they picked me."
Bob Hauck, who coaches the secondary at Washington, said Akbar is a cut above most players he has seen. The serious approach Akbar takes in practice and film preparation, and his performances against the top college receivers will help his transition to the NFL.
"He is a guy with a lot if intensity," Hauck said. "Hakim has a great desire to be good. He studies the game, and the Patriots will be excited about how hard he practices. He has done well against the two first-rounders from Miami [Santana Moss and Reggie Wayne], [Chad] Johnson from Oregon State and Freddie Mitchell from UCLA."
Akbar needs no reminder to make the most of every moment he has on the field. Last September he watched as fellow safety Curtis Williams, his roommate on road trips, was felled by a severe spinal cord injury in a game at Stanford. In an instant, his friend's career came to a crashing end.
"Something like that brings you back to reality and let's you know that this is still just a game," Akbar said. "Anything can happen when the ball is snapped. It makes you a lot more thankful when you are out there on the field. Curtis is a close friend of mine. It was hard to come back from that mentally. You have to move on and play for people like him. I know that if it happened to me, he'd play for me too."
Watching Akbar handle the Williams situation showed Hauck how mentally tough the safety was.
"Curtis' situation was devastating to the whole team, but it was especially hard on Hakim," Hauck said. "To see him come back and pick other team members up and make sure everyone kept their focus and played for Curtis just showed his leadership and maturity."
That maturity was tested during the draft. Akbar, who thought he'd go no later than the third, admitted being disappointed about slipping to the fifth round.
"It just totally surprised me that I was picked in the fifth round, and I'm still getting over it because everything that I looked at said, at the worst, third round," Akbar said. "I had to look at it from the positive side and say, 'Hey, I got drafted, and no matter what round, I will go in there and prove myself and try my best to work as hard as I can.'"
Akbar and his brother, Mikal, a wide receiver for Washington, spent the weekend together waiting for the phone to ring. When the Patriots called, the conversation was relieving and brief. Which safety spot he will focus on was not really discussed, but Akbar plans to let his play do the talking.
"I've got a lot to prove personally for myself and my family," Akbar said. "I want to show everybody, especially my team, that they didn't just waste a pick. I am going to work hard. That's the kind of stuff that has been on my mind. I won't come in and be a bust."
Strengths — Solid tackler who wraps well and loves to deliver a big blow; fluid in pass coverage and has good hands when going up to defend a pass; not afraid to take on bigger blockers when coming up in run support
Weaknesses — Tends to bite on pump fakes and play-actions; has to work to keep emotions in check
Personal — His name in Muslim means Aware Great King; majored in construction
Comparable NFL player — Henry Jones, Buffalo Bills — big, physical hitter; more efficient near line; could play free safety with development
What They're Saying...
"Akbar has size, range and great hitting ability, but is too aggressive for his own good at times."
-Joel Buchsbaum, author of Pro Football Weekly's 2001 Draft Preview