It is a natural habit to tend to forget about a player once he lands on injured reserve for a season. Out of sight, out of mind, as the saying goes. That is kind of how the rookie campaign went for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ fourth-round offensive tackle out of LSU a year ago. Jerald Hawkins was having an encouraging summer until he suffered a shoulder injury in the opening preseason game that sidelined him for the rest of the year.
But while he may have been out of sight, he was far from idle. It would be easy for a player to lose focus and spend some time wallowing in their own misery, especially for young players, when they are dealt such a blow. Players such as Sean Spence and Senquez Golson in recent years have talked about fighting back the demons of doubt during their own stints on injured reserve.
That didn’t last long for Hawkins, who admitted that he “felt it was pointless at first”, but he ultimately “took advantage” of being on injured reserve. “I realized that I can learn the plan and the different part of the game, from defenses to the plays, everything”, he told Chris Adamski. “Especially with the offensive line’s older guys. Just learning and picking their brain about plays”.
It wasn’t just a mental transformation that he was looking to undergo, however. He seemed to have subscribed to the Marcus Gilbert regimen, though his before and after are not so extreme. Gilbert started off a much bigger man before arriving at the clean and lean physique that he now boasts.
But Hawkins did slim down since last season, opting to swap out some body fat for greater muscle mass while retaining his roughly 305-pound base. “I feel more leaner”, he told the reporter. “A little more leaner and a little more conditioned. That much time off, you better do something with it”.
Not that there will be any rush for him to “do something with it” on Sundays, as the Steelers do have a pair of entrenched starters at left and right tackle—the two positions at which he started during his three seasons of college ball.
There is Gilbert at right tackle, as previously mentioned, and on the left side is Alejandro Villanueva, who showed tremendous growth last season and who is hopeful of working out a long-term deal to secure his future in Pittsburgh this summer.
Given that he has never taken a snap in the NFL, it would be hard to say that Hawkins factors much into the discussions between the Steelers’ front office and Villanueva’s agent, and he told Adamski that he isn’t thinking too hard about a starting job right now, just grateful to be back to playing football.
For the time being, the goal is to assume the role of swing tackle, which Chris Hubbard occupied a year ago. As a bonus, so to speak, that role also comes with snaps at tight end as an extra lineman on occasion.