On Sunday afternoon, we all got a very brief glimpse into a window that we had hoped never to see: a fourth-string left tackle protecting the blind side of Pittsburgh Steelers franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
That fourth-string left tackle is Chris Hubbard, who due to injuries is now the second-string swing tackle on both ends. The second-year lineman has spent most of his time in the league up until recently working along the interior, particularly at guard, but is now being relied upon to be much more.
Of course, the plan was to have Kelvin Beachum at left tackle, the fourth-year veteran who was supposed to be in his third season as the primary starter at the position after taking over the spot five games into the 2013 season, his second year.
The former seventh-round pick really began to emerge into his own last year, settling into the left tackle role and displaying what tireless effort, dedication, and commitment to fundamentals could do to overcome disadvantages, as he was the shortest starting tackle in the league.
Beachum suffered a torn ACL a little over a third of the way through the season, however, which ended his year, and the Steelers’ primary swing tackle over the course of the past three seasons, Mike Adams, has missed the entire season due to injury.
That helped push Alejandro Villanueva into the starting lineup, who had no prior NFL experience, and though he had made steady progress since getting regular work on a weekly basis, he was not in the plans to be there.
During Sunday’s game, however, Villanueva was briefly sidelined for what was possibly a concussion evaluation. He missed the final five plays of the drive in which he was injured, but was able to return to the game after that.
In his place entered Hubbard, the only backup lineman active other than Doug Legursky, who is unquestionably purely an interior player. Given the injury situation the Steelers have experienced along the line, Hubbard is essentially the top sub for every position along the offensive line.
And the truth is that in those five snaps, he did a credible job. Admittedly, he was not tasked with facing any overly difficult assignments. The Steelers ran quick passes, provided held, or rolled to the right on each play. But he stood his ground coming off cold on the bench at a position he has never played in an NFL game.
This is not to say anything about his overall abilities or his long-term viability as a role player in this offense. He also serves as a tackle-eligible extra lineman on occasion, including on both of DeAngelo Williams’ one-yard touchdown runs, on which he effectively carried out his block.
For whatever it’s worth, Hubbard has certainly not looked nearly as awful as he did in the preseason, where there was a very strong likelihood he would not even make the team if not due to several injuries. It’s at least encouraging to see him make a cameo and not embarrass himself.