It has been hard to know what to make of Pittsburgh Steelers second-year tackle Jerald Hawkins in 2017. He had a ton of negative write-ups and reviews throughout the spring, and then even into training camp. His preseason could be described, at best, as inconsistent.
Yet he made the 53-man roster. And yet he was always inactive. While he started off the regular season a little banged up, that did not last long. But the Steelers turned instead to Matt Feiler, who had been playing guard for years, to back up Chris Hubbard at right tackle with Marcus Gilbert injured. And he even had to get into a game.
But recently, Hawkins has passed Feiler on the depth chart, and has been used as the tackle-eligible, which formerly was Hubbard’s, and briefly was B.J. Finney’s as well. On Sunday, he even was called upon to play one snap at left tackle for Alejandro Villanueva, totaling about a dozen in all. Let’s take a look at some of them.
We’ll start off with his first play in the game, the first play of the Steelers’ second drive, backed up at their own 10. He checked in with Vance McDonald left of the line, and out of the 22 formation was called upon to pass protect off play action. Luckily for him, there wasn’t much for him to do, as McDonald bore the brunt of the block on the edge.
The two flipped to the right side on the next play, this time a run with Le’Veon Bell coming in their direction. Hawkins moved to the second level, though he let C.J. Mosley come off his block, forcing Bell to cause the Pro Bowler the indignity of a well-executed stiff-arm that was just embarrassing for the linebacker.
He would be redeemed at the end of the drive, the Steelers checking into a 23 look with him and McDonald to the right. Bell patiently worked his way down the line to the right as Hawkins pancaked his man—starting outside linebacker Matt Judon.
Into the third quarter, Villanueva suffered some sort of upper body injury on the play before, forcing Hawkins in for third and four. While the pass was incomplete, sparing the second-year man of a longer stint in the starting lineup, he did his job working with Ramon Foster to block rookie edge rusher Tim Williams.
He was in on the Steelers’ other goal-line touchdown as well. Though they again checked into their 23 look, they went airborne this time, with Roosevelt Nix getting his first touch on the year—for six points. Working next to Villanueva, he and the left tackle worked to stalemate Terrell Suggs, giving Ben Roethlisberger plenty of time to throw.
It wasn’t a flawless cameo, but Hawkins showed a bit, particularly in goal-line situations, that you like to see. The Steelers have been making use of him as a tackle-eligible for three games now, and I imagine that will continue for at least one more game.
He had better make it count, because Gilbert will be coming back in one more game, and Hubbard will no doubt revert back to that tackle-eligible role that they favored in the second half of last season.