He may have spent time this offseason working with a couple of centers, but the future for second-year Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Jerald Hawkins is probably going to be at tackle—or wherever there is a starting spot available. That may come up at left guard sooner than anywhere else.
If he ends up being as good as training camp reports last year and OTA reports this year indicate, then he might have to enter the lineup at the earliest convenience. Of course, a lot of things have to happen between now and then, such as, say, maybe playing a couple of games, getting pads on again at least, but as I always remind in such cases, it’s always better to hear that a player is doing well in shorts than that he is struggling in shorts.
Dale Lolley wrote about Hawkins recently after the former fourth-round draft pick caught his eye during OTAs recently. While noting that “they haven’t done anything in pads yet”, he saw a player that “looks lean and cut” in the LSU product.
That is a good thing considering that he was sidelined for most of his rookie season after suffering a shoulder injury in his first preseason game. He looked good both in that game and in the training camp time leading up to it, but the fact remains that he was on injured reserve.
And it might be hard to look particularly lean and cut when there are limitations on what you can do with a bum shoulder, so it’s certainly a positive and a minor relief to see him looking in such great shape already during OTAs.
As I wrote about previously, the Steelers are high on Hawkins as a young, athletic tackle prospect with maneuverability on the field, which goes hand in hand with that athletic build. He is getting his work in across from Alejandro Villanueva during practice drills, so that shouldn’t hurt, either.
As Lolley writes, “Hawkins wouldn’t have been worse than a second-round draft pick in this year’s draft had he stuck around for another year”, as he declared as an underclassman. So essentially his senior year was spent on injured reserve studying a pro-style offense that he’ll be playing in 2017.
Of course, there isn’t an opening in the starting lineup right now, and it’s not entirely clear when they might be. While Villanueva might not technically have a contract at the moment, it’s reasonable to assume he could have a long-term extension done by the start of the season, and the other tackle has a few years left on his deal as well.
The Steelers have been fortunate so far with Villanueva, who has remained healthy, but they have a long history in recent years of having their tackles go down with injuries for some stretch of the year. It’s a strong possibility that we will see Hawkins playing meaningful snaps this year.