The Pittsburgh Steelers bolstered their offensive line depth in the 2016 NFL Draft with the addition of tackle Jerald Hawkins in the fourth round. While he is expected to apprentice as the team’s fourth tackle as a rookie, likely inactive on game day, they see a future in him as a swing tackle, and possibly even a starter down the road.
Though he suffered a shoulder injury in practice last week, that didn’t prevent him from playing extensively in the Steelers’ preseason debut, running the gauntlet from the second quarter on and finishing the game, though Mike Tomlin told reporters after practice yesterday that he injured his shoulder in the game and that it could be of some significance.
That means that Hawkins might miss some time, and how much time that might be is yet to be determined, which is especially unfortunate, because he had a strong debut against the Lions, working at both left and right tackle during the game in 45 snaps.
One play that stood out came during the Steelers’ lone offensive touchdown drive midway through the second quarter. Six plays into the seven-play drive, Hawkins demonstrated the ability to get to the second level in the running game, contacting the linebacker in order to help open a lane for an eight-yard gain.
The Steelers scored on the next play with ad 29-yard hit to Darrius Heyward-Bey at the back of the end zone, and Hawkins and the line gave all the protection that was needed. Later, during the two-minute drill before halftime, as the team looked to convert on a third-and-10, Hawkins showed quick feet sliding down to pick up the edge rusher from a wide nine to allow his quarterback to complete a crossing route for first-down yardage, though a fumble and change of possession ensued afterward.
Early in the fourth quarter, however, he had a hiccup in the running game, letting the defensive end slip past him to the outside to force the back to cut back upfield.
Midway through the final quarter, the Steelers were playing from behind and the line was working against pass rushers knowing that every snap would be a pass. Hawkins held his own, as on the play shown below, demonstrating a bit of strength.
Though he technically later gave up a sack, the sack was a product of the rusher being able to see what the quarterback was doing, while he could not. Pressure elsewhere forced the quarterback to flush up in the pocket, and with the rusher disengaged, he was able to easily pick up the sack.
Overall, it was an encouraging performance that hinted toward a player capable of developing a full skill set as a lineman. Hopefully the shoulder injury will not be a significant road block in his development as a rookie.