Over the past few years, we have seen Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s tendency to use an extra lineman on occasion as an additional blocker, a tackle-eligible tight end, and due to injuries, right now that additional lineman is second-year guard Chris Hubbard, a former undrafted free agent who spent the 2013 season on the team’s practice squad.
Because of the fact that the Steelers have two blocking tight ends that they’re rather fond of—in addition to a fullback for a change—however, they haven’t seen many occasions on which to use this look. With Matt Spaeth sitting out on Sunday, though, Hubbard did see some action, a total of seven snaps.
With Spaeth already ruled out for tomorrow, it would seem to be an ideal time to take a look back at how Hubbard played earlier this week, as he figures to see some time again against the Browns given the right circumstances.
Hubbard first reported as eligible on a second and 10 play on the Steelers’ second drive, early in the first quarter. Set in a 22 look outside of the right tackle, the lineman drew a back side contain assignment on outside linebacker Khalil Mack. While he succeeded in the very basic task of keeping Mack out of the play, there is not much further to comment on.
Later in the first quarter, with the Steelers on the cusp of breaking into the red zone, they yet again brought on the extra lineman to go to the ground game. While running from the same formation, this time the tight ends aligned to the left of the offensive line.
Because Hubbard was left uncovered at the line, it was Heath Miller who engaged the outside linebacker while he moved out in space, first throwing a chip to aid his left tackle before clinging on to inside linebacker Malcolm Smith down the field, providing the downfield room to allow DeAngelo Williams to clear nine yards on the run.
For the third time in the game, the Steelers brought in Hubbard as a second tight end from the 22 personnel to open their fourth series of the game at the end of the first quarter. It was essentially the same look as the previous play at the snap, but this time on a passing play.
Presenting a very similar look, fullback, play action, and all, drew the linebackers in and froze the secondary to allow the Steelers to attack deep. Hubbard was not asked to do a great deal to keep the linebacker away from his quarterback, but he threw from a clean pocket.
Late in the second quarter, facing third and one near the goal line, the Steelers called upon Hubbard and had three tight ends on the field. On this play, the extra lineman managed to put Aldon Smith on the ground, though the Steelers may have lost an inch or two.
Late in the game, midway through the fourth quarter, again out of the 22, Hubbard drew another pass protection assignment. This time they split the ends on either side, with the lineman on the right. But Smith was able to beat him around the edge, forcing the fullback to help with the block and ultimately resulting in a throw away on the play.
During the preseason, it certainly seemed as though Hubbard was regressing in a major way, looking nearly uniformly terrible. But in part due to injuries, he made the roster, and now he is essentially the backup lineman no matter who goes down. In the meantime, he figures to get a few snaps every now and then when an extra lineman is required. Mercifully, he looks better in this role in November than he did at guard and center in August.