As the calendar has finally hit the late-July date that signals the start of training camp for the Pittsburgh Steelers, we turn our attentions for the next few weeks to just that, training camp, the necessary respite for all football fans who have been the past six weeks wondering what to do with themselves—as least as far as the game goes.
With the start of training camp also comes the start of meaningful competition, and I’m not just talking about players getting to put on pads and smash into each other. There are battles to be won. Position battles, roster battles. Battles for starting jobs.
Before we get too deep into the swing of training camp, here is a quick series that provides a preview of some of the most significant battles that will have to be determined over the course of training camp and the preseason, though the regular season can always decide to change the results.
It often occurs that we already think we know how something is going to develop far in advance of training camp, only to find out that our expectations were misguided, and the situation develops drastically differently than expected.
It is possible that that is what we are in store for when it comes to the Steelers figuring out who their swing tackle is going to be, because it has been presumed pretty much since Ryan Harris retired, or really, even before, that last year’s fourth-round draft pick, Jerald Hawkins, is obviously going to advance into that role—assuming that he is not already starting over Alejandro Villanueva.
After all, it was the looming threat of Hawkins that forced Villanueva to participate in the spring even without a signed contract, and why he agreed to sign a four-year deal with just a $6 million per year average (I do hope that the sarcasm is obvious in this preceding line).
But the reality of Hawkins is that he is a second-year mid-round draft pick who currently has one preseason game’s worth of NFL experience. While that does not mean that he can’t be the backup, swing tackle, it does mean that we probably don’t know nearly as much about him as we might think we do.
He is going to make the roster, no doubt. But he could be inactive on game days. It really may depend upon how comfortable the Steelers are in Chris Hubbard’s ability to play on the blind side, and they have been giving him quite a bit of work at both tackle spots so far this training camp.
Hubbard, who is capable of playing all five positions on the line and has a good amount of experience coming in as an extra lineman, is obviously the more versatile option, which is valuable when you only dress seven linemen for games.
I guess what I’m saying is don’t be shocked if Hawkins ends up watching most games during his second season wearing street clothes. I’m not making a prediction either way, but I think it’s far more likely to occur than many others do.