2016 South Side Questions: Can Steelers Get By With Hubbard At RT?

The regular season is here, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are taking their practices at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, formerly known and still referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility of Heinz Field. While the real work is now upon us, there is plenty left to be done.

And there are plenty of questions left unanswered as well. The offseason is just really the beginning phase of the answer-seeking process, which is lasts all the way through the Super Bowl for teams fortunate enough to reach that far.

You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the regular season and beyond looking for the answers as we look to evaluate the makeup of the Steelers as they wade through a regular season in which they are, at least supposed to be, among the favorites to win the Super Bowl.

Question: Can the Steelers get through a game with Chris Hubbard at right tackle?

While the worst-case scenarios at the right tackle position don’t seem to be as bleak as they could have been, with Marcus Gilbert’s foot injury sounding like it may only sideline him for a week, we also learned from Mike Tomlin yesterday that the Steelers’ backup tackle may also be unavailable for the Steelers’ next game.

Ryan Harris played most of the game at right tackle last week after Gilbert went down, but he is also dealing with a hematoma, and it is unclear whether or not he will be available to start at the position on Sunday, though neither he nor even Gilbert have officially been ruled out as of today.

As Tomlin confirmed during his pre-game press conference, should both of them fail to be able to play on Sunday, the ‘next man up’ at the position would be third-year offensive lineman Chris Hubbard, who would be literally the last lineman standing unless they call somebody up from the practice squad—which they would have to.

As a professional, Hubbard’s most natural position has been at guard. The team spent much of the 2015 season flexing him in to center—which resulted in him snapping his third official ball of his career right into his butt—and this year, they spent most of their time working him at tackle.

While he had his moments during the preseason—he even played a small handful of snaps at left tackle during the regular season last year—Hubbard struggled, though he mostly played left tackle. In order to protect against the Jets’ dynamic front line, they will likely have to do a lot to protect Hubbard if he indeed has to play.

This will probably result in a lot let empty sets and keeping a tight end or a running back to the right side in order to shore up the pass protection, a protection plan the Steelers should be able to afford given their available talent. Whether or not that will be enough to prevent the Jets from controlling the line of scrimmage, and thus the game, remains to be seen.

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