The Pittsburgh Steelers are out of Latrobe and back at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, also referred to as the South Side Facility. We are already into the regular season, where everything is magnified and, you know, actually counts. The team is working through the highs and lows and dramas that go through a typical Steelers season.
How are the rookies performing? What about the players that the team signed in free agency? Who is missing time with injuries, and when are they going to be back? What are the coaches saying about what they are going to do this season that might be different from how it was a year ago?
These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.
Question: What does the future hold for fourth-year tackle Jerald Hawkins?
Had things turned out just slightly differently this year, we could be entering the offseason talking about 2016 fourth-round draft pick Jerald Hawkins as the Steelers’ next solid starting offensive lineman and another feather in the cap of Mike Munchak on his way out the door.
But that one slight thing happened, and so instead we are talking about Matt Feiler, and Chukwuma Okorafor, and even Zach Banner. Hawkins was projected to be the Steelers’ swing tackle this season after Chris Hubbard left in free agency, but he suffered a season-ending injury all the way back in OTAs.
So when Marcus Gilbert once again missed the majority of the season due to injuries, it was Feiler who was called upon as the next man up, and he filled Gilbert’s shoes pretty well. Okorafor, the rookie, also started one game and held his own, while Banner was picked up off the scrap heap in training camp and showed enough to stick to the 53-man roster all year.
Where does that leave Hawkins as he returns from injury? Art Rooney II pretty much said that they plan on keeping Gilbert through the final year of his contract in 2019, so it’s pretty much a given that one of the players named in this article won’t be on the roster. And they’re not going to cut Okorafor after one already promising season as the highest lineman they’ve drafted since 2012.
Obviously Hawkins is going to go to camp and is going to compete for a roster spot, but what kind of leverage or favoritism might he be offered? His teammates were high on him last year before his injury, but that was well before pads ever came on.
With two starting tackles over the age of 30, depth is critical and they’re probably not in a rush to part with any of them. Of the group, Hawkins is actually the only one that isn’t eligible for the practice squad, by the way.