The Pittsburgh Steelers find that their 2017 season ended a bit prematurely, and are undergoing the exit meeting process a couple weeks sooner than they would have liked. Nevertheless, what must be done must be done, and we are now at the time of the year where we close the book on one season and look ahead to the next.
While we might not know all the details about what goes on between Head Coach Mike Tomlin and his players during these exit meetings, we do know how we would conduct those meetings if they were let up to us. So here are the Depot’s exit meetings for the Steelers’ roster following the 2016 season.
Player: Jerald Hawkins
Position: Offensive Tackle
Experience: 2 Years
The Steelers are still not really sure what they have in Jerald Hawkins after two seasons, but they will likely have to find out one way or another this year, as he is projected to move into the number three spot at the tackle position following Chris Hubbard’s signing with the Cleveland Browns, leaving open the swing tackle position.
A fourth-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, Hawkins showed potential in his first preseason action before suffering a shoulder injury that resulted in him spending his rookie season on injured reserve, but when he returned in the spring, he battled inconsistency all the way into the season.
In fact, while he was dealing with a minor injury at the start of the regular season, he was overlooked when the backup tackle position became available. With starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert dealing with a hamstring injury in two separate stints during the first half of the season, it was now Hawkins who got to dress.
It was instead Matt Feiler, who spent his first three years in the NFL on practice squads before finally making the 53-man roster in 2017. He spent the majority of his past two seasons working at guard, but he moved to tackle to serve as the gameday swing tackle while Gilbert was out in the first half of the season.
It took Hawkins time to build up enough trust from the coaching staff to seize that role for himself, but he eventually accomplished that in the second half of the year, and when Gilbert was handed a four-game suspension, thrusting Hubbard back into the starting lineup, he was the one who got to be the swing tackle.
The team also used him as a tackle-eligible during that time, allowing him to actually get on the field and take some live reps during that time. It was a bit of a mixed bag, but he generally improved over time and got a taste of NFL experience as a result.
If the team is counting upon him to step up and be one snap away from the starting lineup, however, I would think that they need to see continued growth from him this offseason. It’s not impossible that they address the offensive line in the draft.