It wasn’t the longest stay, but for the first time in his career, Pittsburgh Steelers second-year offensive lineman Jerald Hawkins got the opportunity to not only dress for a game, but to play in it. During the team’s victory on Sunday, he checked in for five snaps as a tackle-eligible tight end, which he said he had never practiced prior to this week.
And, truth be told, one might fairly observe that he has some work to do before he can be considered a successful blocker if his NFL regular season debut is anything to go by. While he was not featured as a focal point of any of the five runs for which he was in the game.
He first checked into the game for a two-play sequence five minutes into the second quarter. As the right tight end on a run up the middle, able to occupy the defensive end until late in the play.
A play later, it did not go nearly as well, as the same player, Dean Lowry, sent him spilling upfield as the defensive end pursued the ball carrier unchecked. While Lowry didn’t get to Le’Veon Bell nearly in time, he was able to take away one running lane and force the back to take what was given to him, which was just two yards.
Hawkins didn’t see the field again until at the top of the fourth quarter, when he saw three plays back to back to back. Those were the only five snaps that the second-year lineman logged throughout the game.
He went up against Lowry once again on all threw snaps—in fact, on all five of his snaps—even when he flipped the field from the right tight end spot to the left.
As the right inside tight end on a run up the middle, Hawkins had to do little on this first play, simply to hold the defender at bay long enough for Bell to find space. And he did, for 14 yards.
That space wasn’t there so much on the following play, as he tried to work a double team with Chris Hubbard. Lowry got good leverage on the exchange, however, and drove the pile in to the pocket.
He flipped to the left side for his last play in the game, on which Bell fumbled. This was his cleanest block of the night, on which he was able to hold Lowry inside on a run that went off left guard before Bell fumbled the ball.
Considering this was his NFL debut, and playing the role of a tight end, perhaps what we saw Sunday’s night wasn’t too unexpected. But it’s what he does from here on out and how he grows from his experiences that will tell the story.