Now that he’s back from his four game suspension for violating the league’s PED policy, Pittsburgh Steelers tackle Marcus Gilbert is expected to take back over his starting spot on the right side of the offensive line starting Monday on the road against the Houston Texans. While Gilbert is now hopefully back for good as the team’s starting right tackle for the remainder of the season, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin made sure to take time on Tuesday during his weekly press conference to praise the play of Chris Hubbard, who has filled in admirably for Gilbert not only during his recent suspension, but several games prior to that due to injury.
“I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the quality work that Chris Hubbard has given us during that time period,” Tomlin said on Tuesday after announcing the return of Gilbert to the team to the media. “Appreciative of that and that provides big-time flexibility for us moving forward.”
Hubbard, who is scheduled to be an restricted free agent after the 2017 season ends, probably made himself quite a bit of future money over the course of Gilbert’s four-game absence. While he certainly wasn’t perfect in his 10 starts this season, he proved that he could potentially be future a full-time starting right tackle in the NFL.
Hubbard, however, wasn’t the only offensive lineman who received kudos from Tomlin on Tuesday as second-year tackle Jerald Hawkins also was on the head coach’s attaboy list.
“A young guy like Hawk [Hawkins] was able to rise up in terms of his division of labor as well and give us some extra tight end work, reporting as eligible, things that Hubb [Hubbard] usually does,” Tomlin said. “So, one man’s misfortune is often an opportunity for others and those are just a couple examples of guys that have done a really good job of taking advantage of those opportunities and providing quality work for us.”
Hawkins dressed for all four games that Gilbert missed due to his suspension and they were the only times he’s been active for games since he was drafted last year. With Gilbert now back with the team, however, Hawkins will likely go back to being one of the team’s weekly inactive players.
As for Gilbert’s return to the team this week, Tomlin laid out the teams plan for him this week during his Tuesday press conference.
“We’ll quickly get him back into the fold, evaluate his level of conditioning, football readiness, rust, etcetera and do what’s appropriate there as we get closer to game time,” Tomlin said.
The Steelers were given a roster exemption for Gilbert that expires Monday afternoon. In short, the team will likely activate him to their 53-man roster over the weekend so that he can play against the Texans and that means a player currently under contract will need to be cut to make room for him. That player might ultimately be tackle Matt Feiler.