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Steelers Grooming Chris Hubbard For Trai Essex-Type Versatility

The Pittsburgh Steelers seem to like what they have in third-year offensive lineman Chris Hubbard, whom they are evidently developing into the team’s next Trai Essex, a player who is capable of playing all five positions along the offensive line, as well as lining up as an extra lineman.

While his time logged at right tackle on Friday night against the Lions in the Steelers’ preseason opener, Hubbard has now played all line positions in NFL games—with preseason games obviously included. He logged a handful of snaps in an emergency situation in-game last year at left tackle, and saw a lot of time at center during the 2015 preseason.

During the year, the team didn’t have many interior line injuries that would have necessitated him logging time, but the Steelers did employ him for several dozen snaps as an extra blocker, lined up as a tackle-eligible tight end, and that is something that they may continue to do this year.

But when you try to take a player and expand his repertoire by adding multiple positions to his to-do list, the expectation should be that the development will be slow going, and that is what we have, I think, when it comes to Hubbard.

Most naturally a guard, that is where the former undrafted free agent has lined up best during his professional era playing time, both in the preseason and in the regular season. He had significant struggles at center during the 2015 preseason before settling down.

Last week, when he moved from guard to tackle after tackle Brian Mihalik went down with a knee injury, we saw a real mixed bag from Hubbard working at right tackle. The obvious lowlight during his playing time was the sack that he gave up late in the game, which got Dustin Vaughan drilled for the hardest hit by either side of the night.

Still, there was growth potential there during his fourth-quarter snaps, and it must be taken into consideration that the Steelers were playing from a comfortable deficit on the scoreboard, meaning that the defense was pinning their ears back coming on the pass rush.

Given the consideration that this was his first time logged at right tackle in a game, it was not all so bad, and should he continue to log more time during the course of the preseason at that spot, I would expect him to improve.

If Hubbard can develop into a player that the Steelers would be comfortable relying upon in an emergency to play center, either guard or tackle spot, and as an extra lineman, then it would be hard to imagine him not making the roster.

Before that decision can be made, however, of course, more must be seen from him working at positions other than guard during the preseason. He handles himself well enough when at his most comfortable position, but his greatest asset, it seems to be agreed upon, is his versatility.

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