Last year, Pittsburgh Steelers first-year offensive lineman Chris Hubbard was perhaps one of the more surprising ‘keeps’ on the team’s initial 53-man roster. The former undrafted free agent from 2013 spent all of his rookie season on the practice squad, but ended up being the eighth lineman a year ago, and even saw (very brief) action in two games.
To suggest that his seat is safe entering his third training camp, however, would certainly not be painting an accurate portrait of the situation, despite the fact that the Steelers had only eight linemen last year and failed to address the position during the draft.
As they did two seasons ago, the Steelers have once again heavily invested in undrafted free agent rookie linemen, hoping to find at least one keeper for the group—as was the case with Hubbard then, which means that it’s certainly possible that it can happen again, with Hubbard drawing the short straw this time.
After the draft, the Steelers managed to sign three of the better remaining interior linemen from the 2015 class that failed to be drafted, some of whom were certainly draftable. B.J. Finney, Reese Dismukes, and Miles Dieffenbach all come in as free agents who have a legitimate chance to compete for a spot on an NFL roster as rookies.
While none of these rookie prospects possess ideal size, the truth is that Hubbard does not, either. Hubbard is, in fact, listed a 286 pounds, the lightest of the interior linemen by a full 10 pounds.
Coming out after his senior season, during which he entered the starting lineup at tackle while being listed at just 6’3.5”, 278, Hubbard has likely already grown as much as he will at this point, and is clearly too limited to play on the end at this level. In addition, he has yet to show the position flexibility at center that was speculated about him as early as his first season.
No doubt Hubbard has a two-year edge on the incoming rookies as far as being familiar with NFL-level competition. He also has already had a year playing under offensive line coach Mike Munchak. But his head start is by no means insurmountable, considering he has only single-digits snaps under his belt.
While the Steelers obviously liked something about Hubbard enough to keep him on the practice squad during his rookie year, and to sign him to the 53-man roster this past season, the truth is that he was the best of a weak group of linemen, and that may not be the case this summer.
Finney in particular should pose the biggest threat to Hubbard, who while also lacking ideal size possesses much more playing strength and has the position versatility that second-year player lacks. For Hubbard, of course, he still retains eligibility for the practice squad, and if he wants to stay off that squad and on the 53-man roster, he will have to battle for it.