While we haven’t heard much in the way of reports related to Pittsburgh Steelers rookie offensive lineman Jerald Hawkins during the team’s first set of OTA practices that concluded on Thursday, offensive coordinator Todd Haley talked briefly recently about this year’s fourth-round draft pick as it relates to his position flexibility.
“Jerald Hawkins, that we got from LSU, is a good-looking tackle prospect, potentially a guard prospect,” said Haley. “A guy that’s played at a high level. We are excited about him as a guy we all liked a bunch.”
Actually, this isn’t the first hint we’ve had that Hawkins could potentially be worked inside at some point as offensive line coach Mike Munchak also made somewhat of a brief reference to that very thing when he discussed the draft selection last month.
“To find players who you feel can play the left tackle or right tackle spot and to have that versatility, a lot of times tackles, as you get later in the rounds, can play right tackle or go inside,” said Munchak. “We feel this guy can come in and learn from the guys we have, push the guys that we have and now it’s just a matter of how quickly we feel he can contribute as we get him in here for OTA’s.”
While it’s probably safe to assume that Hawkins will predominantly see time at the tackle position during the team’s OTA and training camp practices, you really have to wonder if he’ll be asked to play some guard as well at some point.
If memory serves me, when current Steelers left guard Ramon Foster was initially signed as an undrafted free agent out of Tennessee back in 2009, he initially was worked mostly at tackle during the team’s OTA and training camp practices that year. Foster did, however, ultimately see time at left guard during his rookie season when then-starter Chris Kemoeatu went down injured and nearly most of his playing time ever since then has been at one of the two guard spots.
It’s certainly not uncommon to see the Steelers be attracted to linemen who are position flexible so it will be interesting to watch and hear where Hawkins is asked to work the remainder of the offseason. Currently, the Steelers have three very capable tackles in Marcus Gilbert, Alejandro Villanueva and Ryan Harris so with that said, one would think that Hawkins will need to be able to play some guard if he’s allowed to dress alongside those three players at any point during the upcoming season.
I’m probably reading way too much into Haley’s recent comments, but I did find it very curious that he mentioned Hawkins as a potential guard prospect when not provoked during his interview.
When you think about it, the Steelers really haven’t established who their swing guard will be this year behind Foster and David DeCastro. While backup center Cody Wallace can play both guard spots, he’s not an overly attractive option. The same goes for former undrafted free agent Chris Hubbard. That really only leaves second-year player B.J. Finney as a legitimate swing guard option but we really didn’t see enough of him last year during the preseason to draw any hard conclusions about his future. On top of that, Finney mostly played center during his college career at Kansas State.
Needless to say, you can bet our very own Alex Kozora will be monitoring where Hawkins lines up this year at training camp in addition to watching the other backup interior offensive line candidates.