In reality, the Pittsburgh Steelers had eight draft selections this year. However, if you want to take an alternative view of things, you can probably say that they really had nine.
The ninth draft pick for the Steelers this year, at least in my eyes, is tackle Jerald Hawkins, who was originally selected by the team in the fourth-round of the 2016 NFL Draft out of LSU. While he ultimately had his rookie season wiped out by a preseason shoulder injury that he had suffered, all reports so far during this year’s OTA practices is that he’s now fully healthy and ready to compete for the backup swing tackle job the remainder of the offseason.
During an interview this past week with Chris Mueller of The Beaver County Times, Hawkins revealed that he spent some quality offseason time with two former NFL centers, who both just so happen to be LSU alumni, in Kevin Mawae and Todd McClure.
“I had to call him,” Hawkins said of Mawae, who reportedly had previously offered the young Steelers tackle his phone number should he ever need anything, according to Mueller. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Mawae really doesn’t need to be introduced to any of you as he played 16 seasons in the NFL with three different teams on his way to registering three First Team All-Pro selections and eight trips to the Pro Bowl. He was also Hall of Fame Finalist for the Class of 2017 and while he failed to make the final cut, it’s probably only a matter of time before he has his bust in Canton.
As for McClure, who spent his entire 13-year career playing with the Atlanta Falcons after originally being drafted by them in the seventh-round of the 1999 NFL Draft, his longevity speaks volumes.
While the two former NFL players both played center during their long careers, Hawkins indicated to Bradford that he still was able to learn quite a bit from them.
“I took away every little aspect of the position,” Hawkins said. “Everybody’s not built the same. Everybody’s not as strong, or everybody’s not as fast. But there’s always little perks and tools you can use to help you out with your game.”
While Hawkins did have to redshirt as a freshman at LSU, he indicated that year was nothing like what he went through in 2016 as a rookie. Even so, he said the other offensive linemen on the team kept him very involved with things even though he was unable to practice.
In addition to the Steelers eight most-recent draft picks, Hawkins will certainly be one of several young players on the team’s roster to watch closely during training camp and the preseason. While he did ultimately miss his rookie season, he was able to participate in the team’s OTA practices and most of training camp in 2016, so at least he knows what to expect during his second full offseason as an NFL player.
The Steelers re-signed veteran tackle Chis Hubbard to a one-year restricted free agent tender earlier in the offseason and one would think that he and Hawkins will be the primary combatants for the right to serve as the team’s 2017 swing tackle throughout the remainder of the summer.
While it’s certainly not guaranteed to happen, it will also be interesting to see if the Steelers let Hawkins play some guard during the remaining offseason practices as well to see if he possesses some sort of position flexibility. Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley sort of hinted at such a thing just over one full year ago.
“Jerald Hawkins, that we got from LSU, is a good-looking tackle prospect, potentially a guard prospect,” said Haley during an interview on steelers.com. “A guy that’s played at a high level. We are excited about him as a guy we all liked a bunch.”
It goes without saying that it will be interesting to see how much Hawkins develops during his second offseason under the tutelage of Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak, who is arguably one of the best at his job in the entire NFL.
“To find players who you feel can play the left tackle or right tackle spot and to have that versatility, a lot of times tackles, as you get later in the rounds, can play right tackle or go inside,” said Munchak of Hawkins immediately after the team drafted him. “We feel this guy can come in and learn from the guys we have, push the guys that we have and now it’s just a matter of how quickly we feel he can contribute as we get him in here for OTA’s.”