Pittsburgh Steelers second-year offensive lineman Chris Hubbard has gotten the breakdown treatment in each of the first three games thus far this preseason, but that has been so for good reason.
Hubbard, who spent 16 games on the 53-man roster in 2014 after a redshirt season on the practice squad the year before, would seemingly be in line to play a bigger role in the offense this year should injuries strike following Maurkice Pouncey’s lower leg fracture.
The Steelers did sign Doug Legursky, who figures to be the first man up, but as we saw last year, injuries can mount quickly, and Hubbard even had to log time last season, albeit briefly.
The main reason that he has been given extensive looks in our film room, however, is because the prospect of him playing a role on offense this year seems worrisome based on his performance thus far, and that fear reached a new level on Sunday during his debut at center.
The first of many lowlights came early in the game for him. On two of his first three plays—and the first two running plays—Hubbard tried to make second-level blocks, but failed. The second of these two instances is highlighted because it was a failed play all around.
Late in the first half, Hubbard snapped the ball low, sending it ricocheting off of Bruce Gradkowski’s leg. The ball was recovered by the defense, and Gradkowski suffered season-ending finger and shoulder injuries. In other words, Hubbard is directly responsible for the Steelers signing Michael Vick.
The Steelers opened the second half with the ball, with Landry Jones under center and attempting a long ball, but he was unable to get enough on the pass, and it was intercepting by an undercutting defensive back. Hubbard gave up deep pressure on this play, influencing the throw. Jones ended up hitting his hand.
In the middle of the third quarter, Hubbard was left isolated with nose tackle Letroy Guion on a run designed to go up the middle. While the center had initial control, as soon as the running back committed to a lane, Guion quickly shed Hubbard’s block and brought the back down, gaining a yard on the play only because he spun out of the brunt of the contact.
The Steelers’ last complete series of the third quarter ended unceremoniously with a pair of sacks on first and third down, with Hubbard bearing full responsibility for the first of the two. As was the case in the previous game, he seemed completely oblivious to the stunt, sticking to the nose tackle and sealing him in the direction that he was already heading while the end looped inside unimpeded for an easy sack.
Hubbard may have borne at least partial responsibility for the other sack as well, if his teammates’ reaction is any indication. His assignment may have been a kickout block on which he was late getting out.
Nevertheless, there was ample negative tape on display to further the increasingly compelling argument that Hubbard’s performance level does not merit a spot on the 53-man roster. The Steelers would be better served carrying eight offensive linemen than to carry him based on what he has shown through three preseason games.