In spite of the fact that the Pittsburgh Steelers made a concerted effort to bring in a high-quality group of priority free agent interior linemen, the incumbent for the role they are auditioning for is not showing any interest in relinquishing that position.
Chris Hubbard is listed at 286 pounds officially on the Steelers’ roster, but I’m confident that, like most listed weights, that is inaccurate. That would make him the lightest pure guard outside of Collin Rahrig by a full 10 pounds, going by the listed weights, but even Rahrig acknowledged that he was 10 pounds heavier than his own listed weight of 285.
Hubbard was in the same position two years ago as Rahrig, B.J. Finney, Miles Dieffenbach, and Reese Dismukes—a rookie undrafted interior offensive lineman who was entering a position that seemed unlikely to result in a roster spot.
And during his rookie season, it didn’t. “Mother Hubbard” spent his first year in the league on the practice squad. But he reported back to camp the next season ready to build on what he started, and like Doug Legursky before him, he graduated from the practice squad to the 53-man roster as a first-year player—that is, a non-rookie with no accrued seasons.
Now as a second-year player this summer, Hubbard has to be hungry knowing all the competition that the front office has brought in that will inevitably be seen as an imminent threat to his job security.
While the main goal might be to find the successor to Ramon Foster, the starting left guard who, at age 29, is in the final year of his contract, the path toward that end would include bumping Hubbard from the roster this year in order to develop that successor.
He may have thought to himself “why me” when the Steelers brought in such a number of priority free agents after the draft to compete for his position, but he’s turned it now into “why not me”.
After all, he has the leg up. He has two years under his belt, benefitting from the year on the practice squad. He has a year under the current system run by Mike Munchak, and has grown under him. He even got a taste of game action, albeit not much, and he has logged a healthy number of snaps during two preseason stretches.
As Alex Kozora recounted yesterday, Hubbard was one of the highlights during the ‘backers on tackles drill, as Mike Tomlin referred to it, writing that he mirrored well against Ethan Hemer and Joe Kruger during his reps. Later during on 11-on-11s he opened up a hole in the running game.
The second-year player has been consistently running as the second-team left guard, and has occasionally spelled Foster with the first-team line when the veteran took some time off. He has no intentions of giving that position up, and he’s making that clear this his strong opening to training camp thus far.
I liked his progress last season and wasn’t surprised that he made the roster last year after a fine preseason. But now it’s time for him to show that he can take the next step in his development and become a viable in-game option, perhaps even an eventual replacement in the starting lineup.