At this point in the offseason, we find that training camp is just around the corner for the Pittsburgh Steelers and the rest of the league, and a lot has changed for them over the course of the past several months. They have lost a number of players in free agency, through releases, and retirements. But they have also brought in a number of new faces to replace them.
We all know that roster turnover is an ever-present reality for today’s rosters, and it seems that over the course of the past half-decade or so even the Steelers have proven to be as susceptible to the annual shakeup as anybody. With that in mind, we should take the time to get to know some of the new faces with training camp soon to be here.
The next one up for discussion is the Steelers’ next draft pick in order, that being fourth-round offensive tackle Jerald Hawkins, an underclassman out of LSU that became the team’s highest-drafted lineman since 2012.
That doesn’t mean, however, that anything should be expected of him this season, to be sure, particularly after they went out in free agency to bring in an offensive tackle. They seem to be comfortably three players deep at the tackle position even without factoring him in.
Standing at 6’6” and a bit over 300 pounds, Hawkins has played on both sides of the line, but there has also been suggestion that he could kick inside to guard to expand his versatility, which is always a good idea for a rookie who is not a high draft pick and not likely a special teams contributor.
It is worth remembering, after all, that the Steelers cut a fourth-round pick just last season, though he did get re-signed to the practice squad and eventually found his way back to the 53-man roster for the majority of the season. But with the team already likely set with their top three tackles, it shouldn’t be taken as a given that he makes the 53-man roster, or stays there all season, unless he performs.
It probably goes without saying that right now the rookie lineman’s focus is on simply absorbing as much information that he can from offensive line coach Mike Munchak, as well as his fellow offensive linemen, perhaps in particular Marcus Gilbert, their budding right tackle who seems on the verge of becoming a Pro Bowler.
Attempting to look a bit ahead, however, it would probably be a good goal for the Steelers to strive to get out of him a quality game day active swing tackle with a potential to kick inside to guard if necessary. He does, I believe, however, have the potential to be more than that.
Hawkins comes to the Steelers as perhaps a stronger run blocker as a tackle in comparison to those they have brought in over the past decade, due to the LSU offense, but he is still raw in his pass protection, and that will be a point of emphasis for him during training camp and the preseason.