We weren’t able to get around to talking about every single notable player for the Pittsburgh Steelers during our midseason evaluations at the bye week, so as we have another bye week and a brief pause in football, I wanted to take this time to circle back a bit and highlighting a few more players who played an undervalued role for the team this year.
The Steelers went 6-2 during the first half of the season, and did even better in the second half, with only a review in New York separating them from an 8-0 back half. 7-1 isn’t bad, but it is the difference between a bye week and homefield advantage.
As the season wore on, different players were called upon to step up at different times, and I wanted to take a moment to talk about some of them. This week, I will be highlighting Tyson Alualu, Sean Spence, Cameron Sutton, James Conner, Chris Hubbard, and Chris Boswell.
Player: Chris Hubbard
Chris Hubbard has undergone one of the most dramatic shifts in reputation over the course of the past two seasons that I can remember witnessing in Pittsburgh for a player beyond his rookie season. He has played not far from a full season’s worth of snaps over the span of the last two years, and is likely to parlay that into a starter’s contract when he hits free agency at the beginning of the new league year.
After starting three games for Marcus Gilbert last season, he has spent about half of this year or more at right tackle. Gilbert missed most of the first half of the year with a hamstring injury that reoccurred. Then Gilbert was suspended for four games in the second half of the year.
During that time, Hubbard acquitted himself well, drawing praise from his head coach, Mike Tomlin, basically by saying that he was not a topic of conversation. There is perhaps no higher compliment for a backup offensive lineman than to say that his performance was a non-discussion.
Now, when he was called into action at center in the regular season finale, things didn’t go as well. He botched three or four snaps throughout the game, and that is clearly a skill that he needs to work on if he intends to continue to build on his reputation as a six-position lineman who can also play the tight end spot.
Which, of course, he also did this year, but given the extent to which he was called upon to be in the starting lineup, he didn’t get as much work in the tackle-eligible role as he had in years past. In fact, the most extensive period in which they use that role was during Gilbert’s suspension, a role filled by Jerald Hawkins.
Hubbard is a good guy who has developed into a good player, and it would be unfortunate for the team to see him go, even if he would deserve the opportunity. He showed this year that he is capable of being a starting lineman in the NFL, of that I have no doubt.