It goes without saying that the Pittsburgh Steelers starting third-year offensive lineman Chris Hubbard at right tackle is a less than ideal situation. After all, he is effectively their fifth offensive lineman on the depth chart—only two are on injured reserve, and one is sidelined with a foot injury, leaving him the next, and nearly the last, man up.
But that doesn’t mean that this opportunity is any less significant or special for the 25-year-old graduate of UAB, a former undrafted free agent—and a recent first-time father of a baby boy named Creed, who has all the motivation he could ever possibly ask for to play the best football of his life today against a staunch Jets defensive line.
“It was amazing to have him”, Hubbard said of experiencing the birth of his first child just a couple of weeks ago. “I think it changed my whole life, made me realize a lot. I’m excited. He’s my motivation now”.
No doubt just about every first-time parent can relate to that sentiment, to the moment when your worldview shifts suddenly and dramatically from one of independence to that of caregiver, nurturer, and provider. It is a powerful motivational tool, to be sure.
Not that a professional football player should need any fuel to light the fire that comes out of making your first career start—which very nearly happened last week, at guard, but is now happening today, instead, at right tackle, the second time in as many weeks the Steelers have lost a different starting lineman.
Speaking to reporters late last week when it was unclear who was going to start at left guard, Hubbard said that “it means everything to me, if I get this start”. He talked about his opportunity to help the team get a win being “all that matters”, and said, “I’ve got to be ready. Always be prepared, at all costs”.
He didn’t need to be prepared last week, but he has spent this past week preparing at a completely different position, this time as a bookend on the right side of the line, three spots removed from where he almost started a week ago.
Of course, while Hubbard has been primarily known as an interior player since coming into the league in 2013—he even finished out last week’s game at center, although he did end up snapping a third-down ball right into his exterior and producing a fumble as a result—he actually spent his college days working as a tackle, reminiscent to the situation Kelvin Beachum found himself in.
For most of the past three seasons, Hubbard had not been given a lot of work at tackle, at least not during open practices, but the Steelers worked him there at decent amount—largely on the left side, if memory serves—over the course of the preseason.
Today’s game will certainly be a test for the first-time starter, but it would be difficult to find a player more motivated to take on that challenge than Hubbard, a long-shot entering the league who is playing in the haze of first-time fatherhood—with the full support of his loving wife, of course, who has made adjustments in order to accommodate the greater demands of a weekly schedule that comes with preparing as a starter.