Devil’s Advocate: Development And Role Of Jerald Hawkins

You may recall for the past several offseasons that I ran an article series called The Optimist’s/Pessimist’s Take. I used it to explore different issues and topics the Pittsburgh Steelers were facing and took a positive or negative approach, examining each side in a separate article. This is essentially the same idea behind that, only condensed into one article for every topic.

In this version of the idea, I’ll be playing the Devil’s Advocate for both sides of the issue, looking at the best-case and worst-case scenarios in trying to find the range of likely outcomes of what is likely to happen for the Steelers relating to whatever topic the article is covering.

When it comes to the process of trying to construct a championship roster, the reality is that there are a ton of moving parts, and several ways to acquire said parts. There are a lot of things that can go right or wrong in not always predictable ways, so I think it’s helpful to try to look at issues by seeking out the boundaries of the likely positive or negative results.

Topic: How will Jerald Hawkins fare entering his second season, and how will he be used?

When the Steelers used a fourth-round pick on underclassman tackle Jerald Hawkins, they did so, I believe, primarily because of value rather than need. Having chosen to come out a year early, the LSU product would likely find himself going off the board easily within the first two days of this draft.

But there was some turnover at the position last year when they added him. Kelvin Beachum left in free agency at left tackle and they didn’t know what to expect from Alejandro Villaneuva over a full season. They brought in Ryan Harris for competition and depth, but Harris was to solidify the depth chart this year and perhaps grow into more later.

Even though he spent his rookie season on injured reserve, we are now entering the ‘later’ phase, especially after Harris’ retirement. While Villanueva has cemented himself into the starting lineup, the door is wide open for the backup position.

Hawkins did manage to play in one preseason game, the opener, and he looked like he belonged, but he injured his shoulder and that was all we saw. That brief window, however, and considering it was his first NFL action, gives hope that he can truly develop into a quality, even starter-capable, player.

Before his injury last season, Harris was used in the tackle-eligible role that eventually went to Chris Hubbard. If Hawkins builds off his limited play in the preseason last year, he could serve in that role in 2017.

Of course, it was such a small sample size that it would be unfair to too rigidly define expectations going forward. He did miss a lot of important on-field practice time, and is coming off of an injury, which are not points in his favor. Hubbard did well in his and Harris’ absence last year, so he could continue to fill the role of swing tackle and tackle-eligible. The Steelers liked him enough to pay him the $1.8 million RFA tender after all.

Which side do you lean closer toward?

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