Progress, Opportunity Gave Rise To Chris Hubbard And The Tackle-Eligible In 2016

Would you believe me if I told you that Chris Hubbard played over 300 snaps in one of the best seasons the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive line has ever had? Because he did. According to our charting numbers, he logged 331 snaps, including penalties, 208 of which came at right tackle. He even played four snaps at center.

But the rest of his 119 snaps came with the Steelers utilizing him as a tackle-eligible at tight end, something that they had not been doing at the start of the season, though he did play that role last year. They hardly used an extra lineman at the start of the year, and when they did, it was Ryan Harris, before he was injured.

Prior to his stint in the starting lineup at right tackle, Hubbard’s first snaps of the year came on the final six plays against the Chiefs in Week Four. He lined up as an extra tight end for two snaps, and then took over for Maurkice Pouncey at center to close out the game.

Following his successful three-game starting stint at right tackle, though, it wasn’t exactly an immediate shift to heavily using the tackle-eligible. In the first two games after the bye week, Hubbard only played a total of four snaps. But things began to change after those four straight losses.

The offense opened up in heavy sets for the Browns game, the one that ignited their seven-game winning streak, and he was on the field for those first two plays. He played 14 snaps in all in that game, and over the course of the remainder of the regular season, he saw 99 more snaps in that role.

The Steelers logged 484 snaps on offense during their winning streak, and they used Hubbard as an extra lineman on 113 of them, which equates to not far from a quarter of their total snaps. If you consider that they hardly used the formation in the meaningless regular-season finale, his workload is even more impressive.

Like it or not—most by this point don’t seem to mind—the Steelers’ adoption of the extra lineman did coincide with some of their best football of the year, with Hubbard going his job capably in filling that role as the additional blocker—though he did even run a route or two.

The third-year lineman has certainly made a major leap in his game this past season. His play in the past two seasons hardly looked like the work of a rosterable lineman, but when the games have mattered, he has played above the line, and become an instrumental part of their offensive versatility heading into the postseason.

Part of the reason he has had hits opportunity to make an impact this year no doubt ties into the turnover the Steelers have had at the tight end position. While Todd Haley has dabbled in the tackle-eligible over the course of his tenure here, it has been significantly more pronounced this time around, to the point of becoming a legitimate feature that is prominent on tape virtually every week.

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